1. Part of The Darkness and The Light series
By Mikael Helbo Kjaer
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and all other original characters portrayed in the TV show Xena, Warrior Princess are the exclusive property of Renaissance Pictures, Studios USA and Universal Television. No infringement is intended by this piece of fiction. The story is however the exclusive property of the above mentioned author. This story can be freely copied and distributed online under the condition that any website or list informs the author about the posting. The story and this note must be presented unedited except for any HTML added for presentation purposes. All other situations must be negotiated with the author.
Setting: Post FIN
Violence: This story contains scenes and descriptions of intense violence
Summary: 1stinstallment of the currently planned 12 part series 'The Darkness and The Light', which follows the adventures of first Gabrielle alone and then the girls together after the end of the 6thseries, which I found unsatisfying to my need for XWP action. This 1stof 12 stories follows Gabrielle as she handles an adventure in Egypt, discovering more about her soul and other secrets hidden in the shifting sands of the great desert.
Author's notes: This is my first attempt at Xena fan fiction. And as English isn't my first language (I am a Dane) bear with my hopefully not too bad grammar and writing style. Also send me reviews (no flames, please I am not interested). By the way I know it starts out slow. I am building up my repertoire and the series. For reference Tepemkau means: "Best of Souls" and Netikerty means: "She who is excellent" in ancient Egyptian.
"Lie still!" A young female voice commanded with the complete confidence of someone used to giving command and being obeyed.
"Alright", an older and deeper voice also of a woman answered. The voice was clearly of someone weak with age or disease yet still managed to carry a tone of reprimand as if its owner despised being commanded to do anything. "It is just hard. I am not… used to being inactive for so long". The woman shifted in her bed again.
"I know, but you are still terribly weak. Any exertion could easily kill you Mother", the voice whispered and fell silent.
The darkness around us dissolved slowly and we glimpsed a darkened bedroom from the ancient age. A worried yet hauntingly beautiful woman with almost elfin features, dark hair and light blue eyes dressed in the style of the lands of the East is seated next to a large bed. On the bed lay a very different yet clearly related woman with long totally black hair even more haunting light blue eyes and a deep tan. She was very tall and incredibly thin. She seemed near death and her thin body barely capable of movement.
"Eve I know, but I can't help it. I have never been able to keep still unless I was planning an ambush", the woman explained wistfully. "I have to have something occupying me either my hands or my mind", she said and turned her head slightly to stare at the shuttered window. Silence fell on the room once more.
"Eve. Have you sent for her? I know she will be very angry with you and me if we don't. She would want to nurse me back to health herself… I owe her that. And so much more", Xena said and turned back to look at her daughter.
Eve looked away. Xena gulped. She had only been back amongst the living for almost a day; she hadn't even asked how long she had been dead, much less how or even where her soul mate was.
"She isn't?" Xena left the question unasked afraid to learn the answer.
Eve, her beautiful daughter, just turned her head to look at her.
"I don't know", she finally answered, "no one knows. Gabrielle left Greece a few months after she returned from Egypt. She traveled with the Amazons, a few months after there still came word then suddenly she stopped sending messages. Maybe the distances became too great. Lila wanted her to come home and see Sarah's child, but the note she sent to the Amazons, came back with a message that the Amazons no longer knew if Gabrielle even existed much less was alive. No one has heard anything from or about her for over two years now".
"How long was I dead?" Xena asked in shock and look at her daughter again to check for any signs of aging. There seemed to be none.
"Two and a half years", Eve answered and looked at her mother with great pain in her eyes.
"And no one knows what has happened to my Gabrielle", Xena said more to herself than anyone else.
Eve winced at the desolate tone of her mother, who had once more accomplished the impossible and returned from the dead. She had declined to explain how she had managed that or even why no matter the pleas her only living daughter had made.
"You know mother I think that you can find out what really happened to her", Eve explained suddenly remembering the strange collection of paper in her possession.
"What do you mean?" Xena asked and looked at her daughter again.
"Some months after Lila received the note from the Amazons. I was back here in Greece wanting to relive my few memories of you and her. I was trying to rebuild our family's Inn as a Hospital, when Lila and Sarah showed up with something", she smiled warmly and dashed from the room.
Xena watched in bewilderment as her daughter carried a familiar looking pouch into her room. It was Gabrielle's scroll bag. One of her most prized possessions. Xena noted how her daughter carefully and almost reverently opened it and gently took a pair of scrolls from it.
"You treat that as if it was holy or something", Xena stated with an irreverent smile.
"Mother, Gabrielle and I had our differences in the past. I did kill Joxer and made a serious try on her. But after our separation I had the chance to read many of her works and I have even been graced with a few oral performances, when she was around at your burial. Gabrielle is probably one of the greatest bards ever and one of the best philosophical minds of these and many coming years. I must admit there is even more. When you died I learned that even with the different events in your lives and times spent in adventure she was not my elder, but in fact my equal in age. Yet there is so much in her nature, philosophy and history, which I wished I had known or been able to emulate more closely", Eve was drawing breath for another explanation, but her mother cut her off.
"You are not serious. Gabrielle has to be older than you. At least I think so", Xena explained and tried to calculate how old Gabrielle was in birthdays that mattered.
"Mother, it was also a point of contention between me and her until she sat down and spelled it out for me. She was barely 18, when she left her home to follow you. She knows for sure that she has spent 6 almost 7 years of wandering with you even though you had a slight detour of 25 years of cold sleep courtesy of Ares. She did spend the year, where you was amongst the Vikings, sleeping in an ageless sleep. At least that was what she said Brunhilda had claimed before putting her into the ring of fire. So that makes Gabrielle 25 when you and she parted ways. I am in fact slightly older than her. Funny isn't it, since her as she told me had planned to act as a mother for me if you and she had been able to raise me. After you were gone I kind of began to treat her as an adopted mother", she explained and looked at her mother again.
Xena was silent for while as she considered what her life had done to her much younger companion. Gabrielle had truly seen everything at her side and still she was easily 12 years younger than her. Xena shuddered slightly at that thought, when she once again noticed the scroll her daughter was holding. "Are those really what I think they are? And if they are, how did you get them?" She inclined her towards the scrolls and the scroll bag.
"These are the scrolls she wrote after your death, she left the rest in your tomb. This is Gabrielle's last story about you. She called it: A Friend In Need. Would you like to hear it?" Xena winced at the thought and wearily shook her head.
Eve nodded her understanding and slipped the scrolls back into the bag. "As I said Lila and Sarah came over from Poteidia with this. Gabrielle had left some of the stories there, when she was last there. Mostly travel journals about her trip from Japan to Egypt and back here. Almost a year ago a couple of disheveled Amazons came to Lila carrying the scroll bag and the rest of the stories now in this bag. They claimed that Gabrielle had left orders that this bag should be brought to her home, if she didn't return from her travels within a year. They thought it was Poteidia, but Lila came here, saying that if Gabrielle had passed away then this last remnants of her existence should be placed in the family crypt next to you", Eve explained.
"Why didn't you? I promised her that", Xena said with a hint of a rising anger in her voice. Despair spread in her entire being as the thought of Gabrielle's death spread through her mind. She fidgeted and winced as pain shot through her weak body.
"Stop moving around Mother… I didn't do it, because I did not want her writings to be lost. And because I… I didn't want to bury another one of you…" Eve paused and looked at her mother with great sorrow and pain etched across her face and in her eyes. Then she looked up and smiled wanly.
"And I have the really sure feeling that she is not dead. I don't know why Mother but I think if Gabrielle was really dead, I would know as I did, when you… did" Eve explained with tears showing in her eyes.
Xena considered the thought for a moment. Would she feel if Gabrielle had died? If she would, had she. Would their bond as soul mates draw them together again? Where they even soul mates anymore, after what she had done to return to life? After what she had done to Gabrielle when she chose the greater good over her? She didn't feel the assuring presence of Gabrielle around her, but that could just be proximity. She had the same empty feeling as now, when she had thought Gabrielle had died with Hope.
"I thought that maybe reading some of these could keep you occupied, allowing you to regain your strength", Eve suggested.
Xena stayed silent and locked in deep thought for a while. Finally she reached for the bag made of leather. Slowly and as reverently as her daughter she opened the pouch that she had only opened very few times in their life together and which she had never really bothered to read the contents of.
"How do I tell them apart?" Xena asked as she saw a strange collection of not only many different types of scrolls, but also a roll of animal skin and a strange but neat looking square of paper tied together at one side with strings.
"I have arranged them chronologically with the oldest scrolls on top. The scrolls are about Japan and the trip home through Egypt as well as around Greece. The animal skin is an account from the Amazons. I have never read it… I don't understand their written language. And the square thing is a book from Chin; I have no idea about the contents of that one. It is written in one of their languages and I have never learned that one either. I don't know how it got there or what it contains", she explained.
Xena nodded and took a scroll after the pair her daughter had indicated contained their last adventure together.
She unrolled the dry parchment and look on the neat and trained letter of her bard. She instantly recognized Gabrielle's neat and practiced handwriting, but the scroll began differently than most of her other stories. This wasn't a heroic tale, but looked and read more like a personal journal. Carefully and barely moving she read:
These days not
even breakfast holds any happiness for me. At least my nightmares of her headless
body hanging in the rain riddled with arrows have receded. I still feel anger
unlike any I have known before in my life. My emotions betray me. These last
days have been wrought with difficult times. I spent as little time as possible
in Japan after my soul mate's departure. I still feel her near and at times
I think I even saw her at my side as a ghost only I could see. But I know that
is only my broken heart casting illusions in my eyes, not my eyes telling me
the truth of her continued existence. I have spent the four days getting of
this gods forsaken cluster of islands called Japan or Nippon in the native tongue.
Four days bargaining with my feelings. I have felt despair and hatred. I have
hacked a tree to pieces with a katana in anger. I was like a little girl again.
I hated Akemi and even Xena for their actions. I wanted to avenge Xena's death
by slaughtering the armies or railing against the relatives of those souls that
keep Xena locked in the afterlife. But if I have learned anything in this life
it is that hate, vengeance and anger leads to nothing good. I have decided many
things in my life and if I am to look at myself tomorrow or any day after this.
If all our travels together have taught me true lessons, then I should not act
to unmake Xena's decision. Xena has sought peace and found it in the afterlife.
No action of mine should change that. Oh, I want it to not be so. I want Xena
alive and at my side with the entire fiber of my flesh, mind and soul. Yet my
love guides me in this. It is clear. It was her decision. She didn't want my
life to end with hers. I can understand that. She always claimed I mattered
more to her than the greater good… except this time. No, that is not a fair
claim. I mattered. I had to go and get her body and turn in it into ashes. I
had to fight for her. And she changed her mind without consulting others. Something
I should have gotten used to by now. Even if this time her decision irked and
angered me and she could have spared me the task she set before me. But she
was always changing the plan without me. I have long forgiven her that flaw.
However many a time these last few days I have asked myself: Was she wrong?
Why would Harukata help her at all if he knew and he did that she planned to
return to life after the death of Yodoshi? He was totally dedicated to his duty.
I just don't know enough of the rules of life and death in Japan to answer that.
Maybe one day I will know. Now after I have finally left Higuchi and Japan behind
on a Chin merchant man traveling west. I hope to cross Chin, Indus and Persia
by land. I am going to Egypt. Xena was needed there. Maybe I can manage her
duties this time, although I have often failed at that in the past, but hopefully
not this time. I am all that is left of her warrior legacy. I could be their
hope. I must go on for as I said long ago as I was willing to die for the greater
good as she stood alone against an army: "I have accepted the costs of my life
Xena looked up in wonder. She had rarely caught such a deep look inside the thoughts of her bard. If this was how Gabrielle thought about all things, how deep she felt about all things then it was no wonder she hurt so deep from all the events in her life. Najara had been right all along, it was her job to hurt Gabrielle. And she had probably managed to do that quite often without knowing and as well as intentionally a few times.
I have begun my travels through Chin. At least the people of Higuchi were grateful for Xena's selfless sacrifice and help. I left Japan with a fortune in gems more than enough to get to Egypt and even Greece if I hide my wealth well and keep the prices low. We went to Japan with very little in money and the help of some very brave Persian traders looking for new trade routes to exploit. I arrived trained in the warrior arts of Japan thanks to Xena and Kenji. I even learned to master a sword on our month long journey. Finally one could say after all these years. In many ways I changed most on this journey. I finally learned to cope with seafaring without hurling all the time. And I leave even more changed. I have learned the final secret of Xena's fighting arts. My body has been adorned by a beautiful and magical tattoo of a green dragon. Of course, I was also taught to apply the pinch. Even stranger is the fact that somehow the combination of all her knowledge allowed me to finally use the chakram. Maybe it was some of the stray drops of water I swallowed, when Yodoshi hit me with his fire. I have been steadily been training with it ever since I have begun traveling over land and the ability seems to be lasting and my control is growing quickly. Now that I have mastered listening I can sense the chakram and even other missiles on their approach better than ever before. But the many changes leave me with little happiness as I am unable to share these wonders with my life, my second soul. That cuts deep. I will feel this near endless sorrow for many years to come. This will cut deeper than Perdicus and Hope. This is Xena. The woman I have dedicated my life to. I have grown up with her. She guided me and allowed me to turn into who I am today as much as the events of our life together shaped me. She was best friend, sister, family and mother to the Gabrielle I look upon in the reflection of a still pool of water. I am who I am. Who I wanted to be, who I begged her to make me, when we met, I realize now. I have had ample chance to revise my life and I even now have the choice to go home to Lila and Sarah to stay for the rest of my life. Yet as I looked upon the alternatives and I have spent hours doing that. I realized many things about me that I didn't before. I was always ready to be a warrior. I was ready to fight for what I believed in even before I met Xena. Hell, she met me, when I stood up against one of Draco's slavers. I can fight and even kill. I have often wanted my blood innocence back. I wanted that Hope was never born of me or that she had been born from Perdicus instead of Dahak. I wanted to change many things. Maybe it is my age talking as I am around 50 even if I have only lived 25 of these years. However if I hadn't done or experienced these thing, the world as we know it today might not even exist. And I like myself. I am not perfect. Perfection and innocence was an illusion that I held up before me for many years before I realized that all humans make mistakes and are capable of evil at a moments notice. I know this now. I realized that killing is not always evil and that sometimes things happen beyond your control. One should not seek a battle, but if you enter into one be prepared for the consequences for anything less is utter stupidity.
Oh, Xena I miss your body next to me at night. I miss talking to you. I miss the sense of security that I had when we were traveling together. I have never done this alone and I fear failure. I have failed at so much so often. You were always there to rescue me. Now I have to continue on without you and become strong enough to exist in this world as a complete person as a full adult. Please don't let my continued life be one of failures. I feel that I have to make you proud. I will. I have thought on this. Once I would have taken your death as a sign that I should seek a proper place to live and settle down either with my family or the amazons. But that notion is no more. I am to be your successor. I am the warrior for the greater good now. Not a warrior princess, but warrior, bard and amazon queen. And that hopefully adds up to be enough to at least fill in for you until I die and we meet again in heaven or maybe in another life if that destiny is still valid… Is our future really set in stone? Are we really destined to meet again and again, never to be together forever. I no longer find consolation in the thought that all our adventures, all our sacrifices, all our growth, all our deeds in this life will be forgotten. They will become faint memories of our souls. Gods I feel so alone. Yet I don't crave the company of the living anymore.
Egypt is on
the horizon. These last two months have been hard on my soul and my body. Chin
was mostly peaceful and my short trip through India was equally blessed with
only a few adventures. However I have been forced to battle many slave raiders
for my continued freedom while crossing Persia. Apparently something in my looks
or nature attracts them to me like flies to a rotting carcass. I have boarded
a trader going to Alexandria hoping to find out which if any adventures await
me in Egypt.
Clear blue water lapped at the hull of the ship. The skies were entirely clear and cerulean. All around her the sailors were busy with ropes and the sails, while they tried to take the ship securely up to the docks. Gabrielle looked upon the proceedings with great disinterest. Her eyes were concentrated on the port city, where the merchant ship had landed her. Alexandria. Gabrielle recalled her and Xena's starry night conversation. Egypt had needed a girl with a chakram back then. She had no idea how things were now or even what the problem had been, but she had decided on Egypt as her first step. The first steps on her lone path as the new warrior of greater good that she was or would have to become. The ship slowly settled into its moorings.
Gabrielle carefully lifted her belongings. She was dressed in her red amazon leathers and carried two bags, one containing her concealed fortune which still seemed rather large as well as her scrolls, the other containing her clothes wrapped around the urn. The chakram hung at her belt and her sai's sat at their customary resting place in her boots. Carefully taking in the sight of the bustling harbor Gabrielle locked her melancholy away in her heart and stepped into the city with a smile even if her sea green eyes kept their sad cast.
The day turned amazingly hot as she wandered aimlessly through the bazaar, which seemed to cover all the large and small streets around here. Gabrielle was browsing for some new clothes, her red leathers were getting worn and she felt a need to renew herself a little. Suddenly she heard brash voices speaking roman in a tone typical of soldiers. Slowly so she didn't attract attention to herself, she turned her position, so that she could observe.
A small platoon of roman legionnaires was walking through the market as if they owned the place. Gabrielle was bewildered. Hadn't they stopped the Romans from taking over Egypt? She remembered the bloody battle between Brutus and Marc Anthony. Her blade slicing through the throat of Brutus... That had been 26 years ago. A lot had probably changed in those years. She wondered again, why she had chosen to go here. She had no idea, what the problem pulling Xena to Egypt had been. Or had it just been another bout of wanderlust like what had gotten them deeper into Africa? Gabrielle shook her head and turned her gaze back down at the different and beautiful clothes on the rack before her. The legionnaires passed her without comment.
Gabrielle stopped in the middle of a market square. Apollo's chariot was getting low and soon the face of the moon would grace the sky. She needed to find a place to rest and maybe glean some more of the state of affairs in the city. She had looked all day, but Alexandria seemed like a warmer cosmopolitan version of Athens or even Rome, not a place in need of her help. Maybe she would soon sail to Athens and from the long but well known trip to Amphipolis and the crypt awaited her. Gabrielle passed a few kids playing in an alley. Smiling she turned and asked: "Hey guys. Could you help me?"
The two boys, who up until then had been busy playing warriors with their stick swords, turned and beheld the stunning woman standing at the mouth of the alley. Achim smiled and quickly ran up to the sweet seeming woman. Something in her eyes and nature assured him that she would never harm him or allow him to come to harm in her presence. "If I can", he replied. Her smile became dazzling.
"Could you direct me to an inn?" She asked.
Achim concentrated very hard. He knew of more than a few taverns, where he and his big brother sometime had to go to pick up their drunken father. But taverns didn't have rooms and this woman, who was clearly not from their lands, would probably need one. Then he remembered a place, his brother had taken him, when they had been out looking for their father. It had been an inn, a huge place made for all the foreign travelers, who came to the city to consult the library and the sages gathered around it. He couldn't remember the name his brother had given him, but he still knew the directions. He explained this to the foreign beauty. She responded by ruffling his hair and walking away. It was only when she left that he noticed the strange weapons she carried her small body and Erkan standing at his side. He stared at the image of a green dragon tattooed permanently to the foreigner's back.
"Who do you think that was?" Erkan asked in awe.
"I don't know but she felt familiar somehow", he responded. When she disappeared around the corner, he shrugged and the two boys returned to their game.
Gabrielle walked the route that sweet little boy had given her and truly enough she reached a beautiful well kept set of buildings obviously a very large inn complete with stables and rooms. The place was open and looked to be able to cater to her tastes. She hoped she could buy a good hot bath here as she hadn't been able to get one since her passing through the Persian lands. Cold baths just left her feeling unwashed for some reason. She walked to the door to the common room. The sign above the inn read 'Sapphire's house' in both Egyptian and Roman. Gabrielle smiled and opened the door letting the familiar sounds of a bustling taproom greet her.
She walked down the three steps to the ground floor briskly and looked around. The room was busy but not crowded. People from many lands sat at different tables drinking and eating heartily. She saw what could only be roman nobles seated next to Persian traders. The sound carried many a language or dialect in her direction. For a second she marveled at the fact that she knew, spoke and wrote all the languages in the room. She approached the bartender, who looked like the person to help her.
"Excuse me", she asked in her best Egyptian.
"Yes?" The old and portly looking Egyptian man turned from some work to look at her. His eyes and face lighted and his weary frown became a smile at the sight before. Gabrielle had become so used to her having that effect on a man that she barely even noticed anymore.
"I would like a room and if possible a hot bath", she asked and looked him straight in the eyes with her most sweet expression.
The man looked her up and down. "Of course that will be 2 dinars for the room a night and 1 dinar for the bath", he explained and indicated a sign besides the door where all the prices were listed in different languages.
"Good I will take it. How long is the kitchen open?" She asked well in the practice of living in inns, while she handed him the coin for both the bath and the room. If the kitchen closed too soon, she would rather eat before she took the bath.
"The kitchen is open until I close the taproom, so at least 2 hours yet for any large meal", he offered. Gabrielle smiled at that and was guided to her room.
Gabrielle felt genuinely refreshed from her bath as she sat down to consume the large portion of food in front of her. A large portion of a stew served with vegetables and some fresh bread. She kept drinking water instead of having ale, as she felt the dehydration of a long day spent in the sun in her body.
As she nursed the last of her stew and bread a murmur passed through the by now crowded taproom, which then slowly conversation by conversation became silent. Gabrielle looked to her side from the back of the room, where she had seated herself. A man stood on a small raised dais just a few feet to her right. "Maybe a bard or some other entertainment", she thought and looked back down at her plate, her stomach telling her to get on with the business of eating.
Behind her the man drew himself up and began to speak in the customary rhymes of the bards. Her well trained ear told her that he was using a Greek storytelling rhythm. "Tonight I will start by relating to you all a story found in the scrolls of the great Gabrielle of Poteidia, the one who became known as the battling bard. In her words as written it begins. I sing the song of Xena Warrior Princess and an adventure we had, which I have chosen to call: When in Rome", he set out on a telling of one of her stories. Gabrielle looked up in surprise and looked around at the different tables, where most faces looked on in rapt attention as the bard gave a performance telling how Xena and she had saved Vercinix and arranged the death of Crassus. Gabrielle remembered the painful day clearly in her mind, which had made her arrange the death of another man for the first time in her life. An evil man for sure, yet it still pained her to think about it. It hadn't been the last death she had arranged either.
The bard finished her story and went of the stage to drink a little before he could continue. A voice beckoned to her in her mind. It called for her to take his place and tell these people how Xena had been in the end, how the end of the great warrior princess had come about. It was an untold story. No one knew and the word from Japan, which was an unknown and unheard of land here in the west, would take centuries to spread if it ever did. She was the only one, who could honor Xena in the telling of her last story, the telling of the last story she would ever write. She had resolved to stop writing heroic tales now that Xena was no longer around. Maybe she would concentrate on poetry for while, it had been long since she had written much of that. Resolved to finally do something about it she rose and walked over to the dais.
"If I may I would like to relate another story, before the honored bard continues", she asked and looked around. She caught the eye of both the bard and the bartender both seemed curious instead of angered and so she took the customary seat of the bard in front of the audience. She had brought a mug of water and drank before speaking again. She hoped that her recent year of adventure without the possibilities or inclination to tell stories hadn't destroyed her abilities. "What I am about to tell you is a true story. I should know I was there. I sing to you a song of Xena, my best friend and soul mate. I sing of her last adventure… As I recall it all began a starry night near the northern borders of Greece…" She spoke clearly and put all the emotion of each moment as she remembered it into her voice and eyes. She maintained eye contact and focused on the task at hand.
"And so I stood alone on a merchant ship sailing away from Higuchi", she finished and fell silent. All around her people was staring at her teary eyed, respectfully or even with eyes tinged in the familiar fear of the unknown. Gabrielle sighed and suddenly noticed that she had been crying. She didn't know for how long. She walked almost in a daze back to her table and sat down. She felt many eyes on her unsettling her warrior instincts. She looked on her hands, which were trembling from unspoken emotions.
"You're Gabrielle of Poteidia. The battling bard", the voice of the bard asked in an awed tone of voice a few feet from her right.
She turned her sea green eyes on the young man, who had recited one of her scrolls earlier. Much earlier Gabrielle realized as her eyes told her from the lack of sunlight coming in from the windows. "Yes", she answered, wondering if perhaps the revealing of her presence in a roman city was a mistake. They were no friends of the Romans.
"I am so honored to meet you. I revere the work you have done. It is by far the best works of fiction I have ever read", he told her exuberantly. "You even include yourself in the story with just enough realism to make it all sound so plausible", he blabbered on.
Gabrielle felt burning hot anger enter her gut and her green eyes darkened. "I have never ever tried to write even a single line of fiction. Those adventures are all real. I was there I know this", she raised her voice.
The man just looked at her uncomprehendingly. "How is that possible? You would have to be ancient or dead? Several times", he looked at her like she was deluded.
Gabrielle looked at the man and suddenly understood that this was a man with little or no imagination of his own. That was why he was so good at reciting her story and probably many others like it yet seemed to make no embellishments of his own. He didn't believe in the fantastic. He only believed in what he had experienced. She let the anger drain away and pitied the man instead as she rose. "I don't want to argue this with you. You and I would never agree", she offered as she walked past him heading for the bar.
She ordered ale and turned only to find the bard standing still at her side. "I don't mean any offense, if I offended you. I would like to make it up to you", he offered as the bartender handed her the ale and said that he had it put on her tab.
Gabrielle sighed as she walked towards her table again, the bard trailing behind her. "I could tell… No, that isn't… Maybe I could…" He babbled as he seemed to search for something to repay her with.
Gabrielle turned and looked at him. "Listen. It was just a minor misunderstanding. You and I are even", she said with resolve and sat back down.
"No. It is not about the argument. Well not entirely. I just wanted to give you something. Your stories have been with me as long as I remember and now you have even graced me with the last adventure of Xena. I must repay you somehow", he explained and took an empty seat across from her.
Gabrielle was growing exasperated. "I don't want anything. I came here to Egypt hoping to find out, what Xena wanted here, but I don't see any problems around here. The story and the scroll it was written on is like all my other stories a part of the world and where I travel I will spread the final story of my friend and her heroics", she explained sincerely.
The bard looked at her then seemed to recall something. "I don't know what Xena wanted or sought here in Egypt, but I can tell you that all is not as calm in the realms of Egypt as it seems to be here in Alexandria", he told and his tone of voice grew conspiratorial.
"First of all my name is Kheron", he explained and offered his hand to her. Gabrielle shook it, but kept her eyes intensely focused on the bard sitting before her.
"Well back to the little story of the problems here in Egypt. Do you know about the Romans?" He asked. Gabrielle warily nodded, while quietly in her thoughts thanking the gods that this rambling man didn't write his own histories.
"Of course, I forgot about your 'encounter' with Cleopatra over 20 years ago. Anyway Egypt became subject to Rome under Augustus Caesar and he installed a governor by the name of Lucius Aemilius Paullusto rule here in his name. Lucius was greatly interested in Egyptian history and the library here in Alexandria. He spent a lot of time here in the beginning. Egypt didn't prosper under him but at least we had some measure of peace. However a few years ago his son supposedly another scholarly roman ex-legionnaire took over for Lucius. And where Lucius was an adequate ruler with a small grain of respect for Egyptian culture and its people, his son Lucius the younger is a greedy, but incredibly smart son of a bitch. He began by making the legions around here and in the rest of the cities stronger, then he increased taxes wildly just to finance his new hobby or should we call it obsession", he paused for drama. Gabrielle barely noted it.
"He began digging up the ancient tombs and places hidden under the sands of the great desert like a mad man. When ever has he found a treasure, he has given it to the roman state instead of keeping it. Rumor has it that he doesn't mind doing this, because he is not seeking treasure. He is seeking the ancient magic of the pharaohs and gods. He wants to become a living god… At least that is what the people fear. You must understand, grand and beautiful as they are all the ancient tombs are riddled with traps and magic. And not all that is kept in them should ever be allowed to see the light of day again. Legend has it that the secrets of life and death even immortality lies hidden out there in the sand dunes. I don't believe it, but the people do, and they have tried to stop the governor and his grave robbers. There have been massacres out there in the open desert. And both sides have lost too many people to stop the madness now", he stopped and looked expectantly at her, like he was expecting her to applaud or react to his story. Gabrielle thanked him and downed her ale. She rose and walked to her room. She understood fully, why Xena had wanted to come. The ancient Egyptian magic was according to Hercules powerful enough to wrest souls from Dahak and resurrect the dead. Added to that she had no idea of how strong the mysterious Egyptian gods were in these times. She entered her room lost in thought.
"I could look for
a way to bring Xena back from the dead", the thought suddenly showed up in her
recalcitrant mind. It echoed back and forth for many long minutes as she debated
the issue. But nothing had changed for Xena. If she brought Xena back against
her wishes then according to Xena the 40000 souls of Higuchi would remain unavenged
and become lost. "No. I won't disappoint and dishonor Xena with such an action.
But the governor must be stopped. If only to stop the insane battles out in
the desert", she decided and looked over her room once more. She felt the icy
disappointment and loneliness in her heart and bones as she undressed. Slowly
she lay down on the bed and sank into a dreamless sleep on the pillows with
only a small blanket covering her muscled and sunburned form from the icy cold
of the desert night.
She rose to the sounds of bustle in the streets outside. Merchants and craftsmen were offering their goods and services. The people of Alexandria had woken to another day. Slowly almost unwillingly she rose from her sleep, feeling rested in her body if not in her mind. Nowhere seemed to offer her the comfort she needed to rest and maybe dream. It had been over two months now. It was longer than she had mourned the other losses in her life. Still her energy had returned sufficiently to muse on the word of the babbling bard; she had met the night before. "I should find out more, before I jump to any conclusions. It is always best to know as much as possible, unless I want to be fooled or trust the information of only one person", she thought and remembered the times in which her youthful brashness and naïve nature had nearly cost her or others their lives. She had vowed to think with both head and heart before making decisions affecting others again. Slowly she dressed in the clothing she had bought earlier, giving her a slightly Egyptian look with golden jewelry added to her now white and flowing dress akin to the one she had adopted as they had traveled the African desert.
Gabrielle waved goodbye to the smiling innkeeper. She had just paid him for another day and night after a great breakfast and now walked into Alexandria without all her baggage. The streets were filled with Egyptian poor and freemen, mixing with nobles with their entourages, slaves carrying out their task and every once in a while a pair or more of roman legionnaires looking officious. The small warrior bard weaved through the crowd with practiced agility hardly noting anyone unarmed.
Gabrielle frowned unconsciously, the last year she like Xena had developed an even greater love for the loneliness of the wilderness. It had not just been guilt or the search for redemption which had driven Xena out there. It was the warrior reflexes and senses. Warrior reflexes that Gabrielle now had in spades as well, even more now that her constant practice in listening had focused her senses to a very fine point. A walk through a crowded square made her wary and annoyed her as she continuously had to keep from lashing out or asking a person to move away from her personal space. It was even worse if she was approached from behind. That could have very bad results indeed. Still no warrior reflexes could quench her natural thirst for human companionship and curiosity or stop her from her current goal of finding out more about the governor and his quest for the secret of the ancient times. And so she walked the streets asking innocent questions like the direction to the main roman barracks, where the governor had his palace and even where the temples to the gods were.
The building towered over her… But then she thought a great many things towered above her. It was beautiful, covered in white marble, statues covered in gold leaf and surrounded by a lush green garden, a serious luxury in such a warm land. She noticed that a large contingent of slaves dressed in the normal roman way was busy keep the garden alive, while a few lazy looking Egyptian guards stood before the white pathway leading to the temple. A carving in the surrounding wall identified the place as the temple of the goddess Isis. Most of the people in the markets had all said that it was one of the primary temples in the city or the most popular right now. She judged from the steady flow of people going in and out of the temple that the priests in the place were probably exceedingly busy.
A pair of young dark brown eyes fell upon an unusual sight standing a few feet from the main entrance to the temple grounds. A young woman her hair the color of the norsemen, her body well toned and muscled beneath her expensive clothes. She was clad in the free flowing white worn by some of the eastern desert tribes. Yet as her eyes went for her second pass she noted the presence of strange metal items on the body of the woman. That woman was armed even if her weapons looked more or less harmless. Again she stared at her. Her walk, look and stance were akin to that of the warriors, who served the governor. That woman was ready for anything. Even now in a peaceful city like Alexandria that woman was ready for battle. "Iaret", a voice cautiously asked from behind.
"Yes", she answered, not moving her eyes from the curious sight in front of the temple.
"One of the rumormonger gave us some information in exchange for a plea to Isis on his family's behalf", the man, her former mentor, explained. She waited.
"He says that some of our hopes have been dashed. Xena the Warrior Princess, whom we tried to lure here to help us in the struggle, has passed on to the lands of the dead. She died a glorious death in a far away land just a few months ago", he said.
"That news has traveled fast", she murmured as the blond woman began walking slowly towards her temple.
"It was brought to Egypt by her friend, the battling bard of Poteidia, Gabrielle, herself", he told her and nodded towards the figure approaching the temple. "Her", he said and walked back into the temple to tend to his duties.
"Of course, she matches the description perfectly. Blond hair touched by the sun of a hundred lands. Small and seemingly delicate yet muscled lightning fast and deadly if she wants. She is supposedly capable of arranging the death of hundreds; yet so merciful that she could never kill in cold blood. She's a friend of the remaining Greek gods and in part responsible for the restoration of their power. And the best bard to have graced the world with her stories in many years", she thought as the blond bard stopped to carefully ask one of her priests if it was okay for a nonbeliever to enter onto the holy grounds of the temple. The dark curly haired beauty in her white robes and finery befitting the high priestess of Isis quickly walked towards the woman as the priest tried to convince the bard that the belief in Isis was the best way for anyone to live their life.
"Excuse me", a voice asked from the side just as Gabrielle tried to find a polite way to get rid of the preaching man. The priest turned indignation written across his features. Gabrielle turned and was greeted with the sight of a most beautiful and very young woman dressed in a very expensive robe and carrying many beautiful pieces of gold jewelry on her. The priest seemed to instantly shut up and bowed deeply before the much younger woman standing before him. "I would like to speak to this woman myself", the dark skinned girl commanded in a mild tone with her pouting lips.
"Yes, high priestess", he said and immediately withdrew.
Gabrielle and the young woman stared at each for a few seconds. Gabrielle instantly recognized a good soul in this woman. This was someone, she could trust… for now.
"I am guessing you know who I am", Gabrielle stated, guessing that the babbling bard from last night had probably spread the word of her presence in town far and wide. Sooner or later the Romans would come looking for her. That would have to be dealt with
"Yes. You are Gabrielle of Poteidia. I am Iaret the high priestess of Isis. I am glad to meet you", she said and held out her hand in greeting. Gabrielle having learned the typical response from her time acting as a body servant to Cleopatra in the shape of Xena did what was expected. A silence came between them.
"I came because…" Gabrielle began to speak, but was cut off by the young girl.
"You came because you wanted to do right by Xena. You want to take her mantle for the time being. And you came here to us, because you wanted to learn more about what is going on here. You probably heard a little from someone in the last few days and now want to come here to learn more from us as we are the most popular faith these days and powerful enough to have some clout with the governor, yet are his political enemies. Am I right?" The girl looked expectantly at the bard, who nodded with a smile.
"Follow me then", the priestess said and walked towards the temple.
Gabrielle walked carefully behind the girl, while taking in the majestic beauty of the temple building as they passed people asking priests for advice or blessings. They passed beyond the realms of the priests and into the inner chambers of the temple. Iaret moved up to a small desk and motioned for Gabrielle to sit. "This is how it is in Egypt now…" She began to tell the story from her point of view.
"You must understand that all the Romans want from the lands of Nile is income and food. Even under Augustus, who cemented his position here in Egypt with our help, the Romans only wanted that from Egypt even if his governor had orders to subtle about it. So the people of Egypt endured under his governor. Then he became too old, but he and his family were now the experts of Egypt and so he got his son to take over, but now the orders from Egypt was very different from when Augustus ruled. He was to drain all the possible resources from Egypt that could be gotten without razing the land. And Lucius is a very apt man for that. He is a former Legionnaire general and a very gifted student of philosophy and Egyptian culture. But we soon learned that he wanted more than his father. While he made very sure that we were pressed to the ground by his taxes and demands for goods he began a campaign to dig up ancient treasures which belong to the dead and the gods. It was brought to us: The priests and priestesses of the gods. You must understand, in these hard times the people have turned to the gods for help and support and they have responded in kind. However many of them are filled with immense anger against the foreign invaders and have called many men from the cities and the deserts together to oppose the Romans, not only on their treasure hunts but also to throw them out of Egypt again. However I and the head priests of Thoth, Osiris and Horus have gotten different orders from our gods. They don't want us to fight a war we cannot win. They just want us to stop Lucius from learning the ancient secret of the living gods and the times of the construction of the Pyramids. Or even more ancient times beyond that". Iaret explained and passed Gabrielle a map of Egypt.
"We had sent out rumors and more recently messages hoping to lure Xena here. You see we can't very well turn to a Greek heroine for help at least not officially anyway. The people would not accept such help". Gabrielle was about to tell Iaret the news of Xena's death, when she held up a hand to stop her with a sad understanding in her eyes.
"I know of her going into the lands of the dead. However I hope that you'd would be willing to give us a helping hand. You see all the suggestions of the people out there in the desert are to fight a war and I had hoped that this matter could be resolved without the wholesale slaughter of either Egyptians or Romans", she stared at Gabrielle the intent clearly etched in her face.
"I can't promise that this can be resolved without bloodshed. But I will try. I would anyhow. Now if what you have told me is true then the core of the current problem is the fact that Lucius is trying to steal the ancient secrets from the tombs here in Egypt. But the reasons you've given me are rather general. I have seen warlords on a treasure hunt before. They tend to be rather single minded about it, going after something specific. Do you know what it is?" Gabrielle asked her usual curiosity intently written across her face.
Iaret was taken aback by the apparent youthfulness mixed with a lot of wisdom and experience in the young woman sitting before her. Once again she tried to judge the age of the woman, but only came up with a number between 20 and 30. Finally she tore herself from her musings and told what she knew. "We don't quite know and our gods haven't told us anything either. I do know that Lucius and a legion together with those traitors, who help him on his treasure hunt, are camped in the Valley of Kings".
Gabrielle thought about it for a moment. "I have to go there then. I can't do anything about Lucius until I get there… However I need something to be able to do this".
"What ever you want and I or the other priest can give we will gladly make yours", she stated.
Gabrielle didn't lose a moment. "Then if you can spare them. I would need a competent and trusted guide as well as the trip there arranged for me. The man you send will have to be absolutely loyal to you or your cause and he must be able to follow my commands on the spot", she explained and looked towards the young high priestess.
Iaret smiled and laughed: "I thought you were going to ask for payment or something like that. I have someone like that on hand however you would not be traveling with him alone. He and his wife are faithful worshippers of Isis and I know they have the same fervent wish for the bloodless ending of this conflict as I do. I am sure we can have everything ready for your departure in the morning if that is not too early". She smiled and rose from the polished wooden chair. Gabrielle bounded to her feet and smiled as they gave each other a friendly handshake to seal the deal.
Gabrielle had just left the temple entrance and Iaret stood in the midday sunlight watching her go as her old teacher stepped up besides her. "I don't understand Iaret. Our goddess and the others you mentioned as you spoke to the bard are just as set on the fight with the Romans as the people. Why did you lie to her?"
"I didn't exactly lie, it is more that Isis has manipulated the other gods in this and I am just following her will. If we had asked Gabrielle to fight the war for us, she might have turned us down on the spot or been reluctant. Now she travels to the Valley of Kings with trust and a light in her heart instead. We both know that Lucius is beyond reasoning and pretty words, so that dear woman out there will fight and probably kill him for us. Taking the blame for the death of another roman instead of an Egyptian, so there is no massacre of our people and the belief of Isis is allowed to continue to expand even deeper into the realms governed by the Romans. It is a good deal for us", she explained. "Even though I loathe extending the depth of sorrow already present in the bard. Oh, well Isis has commanded it. Now we must talk about your habit of listening to private conversations", she added as Gabrielle passed out the main gates after pausing briefly to admire the lush gardens around the temple.
Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief as she heard the final words of Iaret to that other priest. She had learned to listen and on whim she had done so as she had caught a glimpse of the priest talking to Iaret. She knew that kind of reasoning and she didn't begrudge Iaret, it was typical of gods and their priests to think and act like this, just like it was second nature to a warlord to lie and break any honorable deal if they saw fit to do so. Iaret's help would bring her within striking distance of Lucius and she would then decide if there could be found any way for ending the conflict without anymore bloodshed. After all she had only gone to the temple after a few elderly people had told her about the temples being the guiding force behind the attacks on the tyrant Lucius. Now all she needed to verify was to add a bit more truth to the claims against Lucius about him being a cruel tyrant. Gabrielle smiled and put the turban she had purchased earlier in the day. It was time for a little bit of acting. She opened her pack and drew forth a little bottle of spirits which she had also purchased; she dowsed her skin and took a swig from it, before heading over to the areas around the roman barracks.
Vespan was nursing his fourth ale for the day. Or evening as it was for him. He had pulled an all-nighter of guard duty and then headed over to the tavern with his buddies to get a little ale in his stomach before heading back to sleep before repeating the same tonight. Around him his buddies were also nursing their cups; they would soon head over to the barrack for some deserved sleep.
Suddenly the tavern door opened and a woman dressed like one of the wild desert people walked in her. He thought her skin was very pale, but what he really noticed were the ample female shapes under the white clothing and the presence of something that could be weapons if one only believed in self-defense in her boots. She staggered drunkenly up to the bar desk and demanded the best ale in the house in perfect Latin, like she had just stepped off a ship from Rome herself. He sat only a few feet or two from the intriguing beauty, who plopped down heavily at the neighboring table with her mug of ale. He felt brave.
"Excuse me, but are you roman?" He asked and smiled invitingly at her. She turned and looked at him appraisingly like she was checking a piece of livestock. "Nope", she answered with her perfectly white teeth showing from rose colored lips. Vespan felt a heat growing inside him from her physical looks alone.
"I am greek", she breathed. He could smell liquor on her breath.
"Oh, and what is a Greek woman doing all alone in Egypt", he asked with a smile while trying to edge closer. He noted that his buddies were also finally catching up and taking interest in the conversation.
"I am looking for merchandise. I am a slaver. I heard that maybe the new governor would be a bit more open to such enterprise than the last softie", she revealed and took a large gulp from her mug.
"You're a slave trader. Well I think you might find a lot of business here then. Governor Lucius often has to sell people off to slavery, because they rebel or try to evade his fair taxes", he told her.
"Well I heard from my father that the last one promised just the same. Then he came over and… nothing. All that mattered was stability and food production. Not enough slaves on the auction blocks and no profit were to be made elsewhere either. Do you think Lucius is different from his father?" She turned fully towards them, while taking off the turban, revealing a head full of beautiful sun blond hair over radiantly green eyes. The legionnaires were all smitten.
"Oh, Governor Lucius is very different from his father. He loathes Egypt, but tolerates his position here because it gives him and his family a lot of power both here and at home in Rome. Unlike his father he doesn't care anything about the sensibilities of the Egyptians. He drives them to work hard and pay large amounts in taxes as well. Many can't so a lot of slaves are ready to be sold every month. And there is always his fascination with the Egyptian past. It has so enraged the people here that many of their men try to fight us out there in the desert, but the legions of Rome aren't easily defeated and many of their best men are standing as we speak in the markets around Egypt ready for any trader interested if they aren't lying dead out there in the desert sands", Vespan explained excitedly. He had just finished his tour of duty out near the Governor's latest excavation and had seen glorious combat against the under armed and badly trained Egyptian rebels frequently raiding the Governor's campsite. But his focus was in the now and on the nearly drunk slave trader sitting in front of him. He had hopes that if he was nice enough to her she would let him do her.
"Say my beauty, why don't you and I find some place more comfortable and have some fun", he offered. He saw her eyes check him out one more time, and then she just smiled and shook her head. "No, no. Not today lover boy. Why don't you come by here tomorrow, when I am sober then we can continue this. I am really no good, when I am like this", she slurred and downed the ale, while rising on her wobbly feet.
"I will be here again tomorrow at the same time", he promised hopefully. She smiled a dazzling white smile, while her nose wrinkled in the cutest manner, before slowly staggering back out side.
all the way back to her inn. Men especially warriors were so easily manipulated
by their baser needs. Now she knew that Lucius was at least what she had come
to expect from the Romans if not worse. And no Roman leader that she had ever
known should be allowed within miles of god-like powers or even godhood. She
passed through the taproom only stopping to order another bath and then went
up to her room to begin packing a little. She spent what remained of the day
with the bath, a little light training with her sai's and a hearty evening meal.
The desert had a stark beauty which in many ways reminded her of Xena. It had great beauty, but was also in many ways the most deadly place on earth. It could be capable of astounding acts of mercy, yet if wronged or mistreated you were instantly dead. Gabrielle drew the veil across her face once more to avoid breathing in to much of the sand stirred in the slow breeze, which carried the smells of water and grass from the banks of the Nile towards them. They had traveled for nearly a week seeking the encampment of the Egyptian. Gabrielle had wanted to go straight for the camp of the Romans via the Nile, but had decided against it in the end. Achim, a man from beyond borders of Egypt and his wife Isra were her guides here in the desert. She turned to look towards the pair and their pack animals. Achim was a proud man, an independent trader and warrior, who specialized in trading luxury wares hidden amongst his camels' packs and who was a very dedicated worshipper of Isis it seemed. Gabrielle suspected that it was more the opinions of his strong willed Egyptian wife and former slave Isra, which he followed. They had shared the interesting story of their lives over the campfire after a few days of cautiousness on their part. Gabrielle was happy to have them along, they were great people and very knowledgeable in the recent history of Egypt and they liked her it seemed. Of course, Gabrielle hoped that Iaret hadn't given them some secret orders to get rid of her after her mission was done, because she liked both of them and Achim was by far not good enough with his scimitar to defeat her in a fair fight. Achim approached her camel, a very smelly beast.
"We will reach the camp within a few hours, Gabrielle", he said from inside his black desert clothing. Gabrielle was amazed that a man from such a male dominated society as the desert nomads of the east would accept her opinion or commands, but he seemed to have no problems with it. Again she suspected the hand of Isra in this behavior; she was truly a stubborn person.
"Good, I am tiring of sand and ice cold nights", she commented in his own language. She had spent the last week learning it. It seemed her amazing ear for languages still hadn't abandoned her.
"Yes, but as I told you, when we set out on our journey. The Romans control the Nile and the legion controls the only good landing spot near the Valley of the Kings. It was for the better that we traveled in this manner. This way we look like poor traders with a meager caravan instead of a warrior and her cohorts. And you agreed I might add", he explained.
"Of course I did, and it is still correct. I didn't intend to offend you my friend. I am just irritable when I can't bathe regularly. It's a habit I have picked up on my travels", Gabrielle said and managed to raise the speed of her camel by rapping it on its rump with a stick.
Suddenly she became aware of metal and leather sliding against each other. Sandaled feet were running across sand coming in their direction.
"Someone is coming", she whirled and yelled towards Achim and Isra.
Just as soon as she turned towards the noise, she saw what looked like a small group of roman legionnaires coming over the ridge of a dune.
"You there hold!" They yelled and ran towards them with their shields and spears gleaming in the sun.
Gabrielle cursed inwards. The battle lines had probably moved and they had crossed into the patrol area of the Romans. Achim and Isra quietly caught up with her. The agreement was that Achim should first try to talk them out of situations like this. However just to be ready Gabrielle made sure no unnecessary clothing covered her sai's or Xena's chakram. They waited patiently as the Romans approached. Gabrielle watched intently for signs that they were going to charge instead of stopping, but their advance slowed and came to a halt in front of them. The patrol leader stepped up towards them.
"What can I help you with?" Achim asked in very bad roman gave them a salesman's smile. Gabrielle smiled behind her veil; Achim was going to act the desert country bumpkin out to make a few dinars. She knew that his roman was almost without accent in everyday life.
"We are not here to trade with you! This is a war zone. You can't continue this way", the man explained in an irritated tone of voice.
"Oh that is not good. I was heading towards the harbor hoping to get a quick ride across the Nile so that I might head for Syria my home land", Achim explained slowly as if he had to think of each word one by one.
"The harbors up and down the Nile are currently closed. You'll have to go up to the Mediterranean coast to find a ship", the roman explained carefully as if he thought Achim slowwitted. Gabrielle reminded herself to use that tack herself some time in the future, it might come in handy.
Achim cursed for a while in his own language, when suddenly war cries resounded across the small valley between the sandy dunes. A large group of warriors on horseback swept in the gulch between the two surrounding dunes and headed towards the group. "Rebels", the patrol leader yelled and began issuing orders to his men.
Achim motioned for them to withdraw from the battle slowly, but the fates had decreed otherwise. The Romans noticed their withdrawal, but didn't begrudge them what they considered to be cowardice, but the attackers didn't seem to care which side they were on. A volley of arrows was loosened on both parties. The riders weren't concerned with precision, but instead rained death on them, hoping that some of the arrows would hit something important.
Harmless arrows rained around her. Then Gabrielle sensed it coming towards her as her body and reflexes suddenly warned her. She left philosophy and poetry composing behind and let her body react to the approaching sounds of two arrows. Her hands flew forward and caught first one then another arrow. However her camel wasn't so lucky. It caught an arrow in its forehead and immediately began falling to the side.
Gabrielle held the two arrows before her, when suddenly she felt her mount starting to tumble to the left. Knowing full well that a falling mount could easily crush her under it, she quickly leapt to the other side.
She landed effortlessly in the sand and threw the two arrows aside. She reached down and took up the chakram. Her eyes quickly saw a path for it to fly and threw it right towards a stone. With its typical howl the metal ring flew towards the stones and split in two smaller parts heading towards the front group of riding archers, who had stopped their horses to aim their weapons. She saw with a smile how the first half of the chakram neatly severed the bowstrings of all the archers, while the other headed underneath their horses and cut all their saddles free. The chakram reformed in the air and curved back heading towards her, while the archers all slid of their horses into a great mess of men and horses. She stepped forward and caught it, while taking stock of the battlefield. The Romans had taken the brunt of the volley of arrows, but their armors and shields had allowed all but two of the eight men to avoid injury. The Egyptians were numerically superior, but they had nine unarmed archers on the ground in front of them and only seven warriors seemingly ready to fight. Her head turned, but she couldn't catch a glimpse of either Isra or Achim in the mass of living and dead camels behind her.
"Attack", she heard the Roman leader scream, answered by a call to do the same from the Egyptians. She was at an impasse then her ears caught the sound of even more approaching Roman sandals and the lack of human breathing from the remainder of Achim's caravan. They had passed. Just like that. Gabrielle pushed the loss back into the mass of sorrow that coursed through her soul and forced her to focus. A plan formed in her mind. With a grim look on her face she ran towards the Egyptians after drawing her sai's. She cried: "Vengeance" in Amazon, another language where that word sounded hideous. She dove in the fight, hoping she didn't have to kill anyone, while still looking convincing to the Romans.
A man clad like one of the palace guards had done back, when they had fooled Marc Anthony and Brutus, ran towards her brandishing a short sword reminiscent of the Roman ones. They locked weapons and a dance of thrust and parry began. Finally she weaved right as he brought his sword down in an overhead strike and succeeding only in planting his weapon in the sand. Gabrielle gave him a precision kick in his side sending him sprawling in the sand besides his now dropped sword. She quickly followed up as he was trying to vault to his feet by jumping up, wheeling in the air and landing with her full weight on his chest. She heard a few ribs crack under the impact. He seemed to have fainted from the pain. However she never managed to ascertain his health as someone hit her across the back with a staff.
Gabrielle winced in pain but she had tried much worse and nothing except bruises would come of that attack. She rolled forward with the strike, came up on her feet, wheeled about and ended standing on the sand a few feet from her attacker. He was a large and burly man, who brandished the staff like only an amateur could do it. She knew; she had done the same in the beginning. He ran towards her and attacked by swinging the long staff in one hand towards her. Gabrielle dropped her sai's and grabbed the staff as the long end came towards her. She felt the jarring strength of the attack in her arms, but ignored it and instead quickly kicked sideway hitting the man's hand, while tearing the staff backwards and up. Now she had his staff. With a smile she whirled the staff about like the type of familiar friend the weapon was to her.
The man looked on the display and quickly turned to run. Gabrielle smiled and yelled: "Hey you forgot this" and threw the staff like a spear deliberately hitting the ground far in front of him. She bent down and picked up her sai's
A young Egyptian, almost a boy, ran towards her, brandishing a short sword. Gabrielle acted quickly and threw her body backwards while extending and stiffening her right leg. She felt her hard leather hell hit the boy on the chin and landed just to watch him land in the sand. She quickly rolled forward and slammed the length of her sai's into his chest.
She ran towards the last of the Egyptians standing near her. He brought his sword forward; she easily deflected it to the left and kicked him hard below the belt, where he had no armor. He leaned forward, groaning in pain. Gabrielle whirled her sai's so that the pummels pointed forward and hammered them in his head, hoping that he had a thick enough skull to resist the trauma. He immediately collapsed and lay still. She stopped barely out of breath and looked around the battlefield again.
The Romans had been reduced to half strength, when suddenly the reinforcements Gabrielle had expected for a while came over the ridge towards the battlefield. The remaining rebels quickly fled as well over twenty fresh legionnaires approached. Gabrielle ignored them, she ran towards the remaining camels looking for Isra and Achim. She found them. Isra had taken an arrow to the neck; she hadn't even felt any pain before dying. Achim had taken two arrows in the chest, one had clearly penetrated a lung, while the other had hit or come close to hitting his heart. Gabrielle grimly noted that there would have been no way for her or even Xena to heal such wounds. She would mourn her friends without guilt. She bent down and closed Achim's eyes, when a shadow of a legionnaire fell over her.
"Warrior, do you speak our language", he asked.
"Yes", she answered and rose to greet the man, who looked like the leader of the relief force. He wore the insignias and signs of a Roman commander, probably the leader of an entire detachment.
"Was this your caravan or?" He asked and looked over the carnage of camel and the two dead people.
"It was his, I only traveled with them on my way towards Persia", she explained and pointed towards Achim.
"Good. Take what is yours from the caravan, the rest will become the property of Rome", he stated and looked at her expecting her to protest. Gabrielle nodded solemnly and went over to collect her valuable possessions, which she always carried with her even into the camp of an enemy. When she had finished the roman commander still stood there. Gabrielle judged him to be well over thirty and a soldier with little interests in politics except when they involved him. He had seen many battles and had a hardened heart from them.
"I have heard from the legionnaires that you fought bravely and excellently. As it goes against my principles to leave anyone at mercy of the desert may I offer my protection and companionship until we reach our camp, there you can travel with the caravans towards Memphis and then continue on your travels", he asked and smiled.
"I thank you. I gladly accept your offer", she replied and followed him towards the soldier, who were still gathering prisoners soon to be slaves and their own wounded on emergency assembled litters. Soon they set out continuing on the same route that Gabrielle and her friends had traveled not an hour earlier. She felt another pang of regret for her two guides, whom she had been able to talk to and depend upon in the merciless desert.
They were walking through the hot afternoon sands. She walked besides the commander easily carrying her belongings in her two fur bags easily resisting the hammering sun using the tricks Xena and later Achim had taught her, when he suddenly spoke: "You seem to know what you're doing, yet you are not an Egyptian nor are you one of the Persians. Is it too much to ask where you're from? Excuse my curiosity I don't get to meet many good female warriors?"
Gabrielle looked at him and smiled underneath her veil. "It is not a problem. I am a Greek amazon my experience comes from my many years of traveling", she explained.
"Well, I must thank you again for your help. The men claim that if you hadn't used your strange weapon, then we would have come to a graveyard instead of to the rescue", he said and smiled thankfully at her.
"I only did what was right. And there was self interest in this as well. If I hadn't attack then I would have been just as much killed as my friends", she said.
"It is a most unusual weapon. I believe I've heard about something like it before but it was carried by a legendary warrior, who is long crucified and dead", he said and looked at her questioningly.
"Yes, the chakram of Xena the Warrior Princess. She is dead, but we amazons honor her memory as the greatest female warrior of all time by emulating her. I am one of the few, who has managed to master a copy of her chakram. However it doesn't have any of the magical properties of hers. In my case it is all skill and a little luck", she lied and hoped that he bought it.
"That makes sense. Many Roman emperors also try to emulate Caesar, but so far all have fallen short of his ability and grandeur at least if I am to believe my father", he told her and smiled.
Gabrielle shuddered at the memory of Caesar and their crucifixion. She would remember the intense pain, the ice cold air and even her final gasp of air. Even here in the hot desert that memory left her freezing cold.
"There it is", the commander exclaimed and pointed down into the Valley, where in the middle of the green areas and cliffs a roman fortress complete with wooden palisades lay nestled against a large mass of ancient ruins. Gabrielle was filled with a strange longing and hominess at the sight. "Déjà vu", she thought and looked up and down the valley. It seemed strangely familiar yet different.
"How long until the next caravan leaves for Memphis", she asked and looked towards the suntanned black haired commander.
"A little less than a week, they just brought us supplies and we haven't found any treasures here yet, so there isn't really anything to send home", he said and commanded one of his men to run ahead and tell everyone that he was bringing in some wounded men.
"Treasure", Gabrielle asked as if she had no idea, what was going on in the Valley.
"You haven't heard". She emphatically shook her head. "The governor wants to heighten his standing in Rome, so he is busy taking the buried treasures out of here and freighting them back home. He is very popular with the Emperor right now. That is why you were attacked by the way. The local yokels don't want us to take the treasures out of the tombs; they say it is because ancient secrets of their gods beyond what ever they want to see the daylight ever again. They're acting like there are a thousand demons waiting out there in the sand to rise and destroy Egypt every time we open a tomb. But we are safe down there… Not that you need much protection", he added with a smile.
Gabrielle had a sinking feeling; once again her looks were getting to a man. Was there no end to that phenomenon, or would she have to wait until she was old and gray before it went away. It would be years still before she would allow anyone man or woman deep enough into her heart to love them, or so she felt. Sometimes she suspected that her godlike friend had a hand in that, but Aphrodite had always denied that she had anything to do with her effect on certain men, even if Gabrielle wasn't sure that she had that affect on them before she had met her.
The legionnaires marched into the camp with no hassles. However the guards stopped her immediately. The walls weren't that tall and Gabrielle judged that she could get over them from both the outside and inside quite easily. The outside of the wall was patrolled by four men groups of legionnaires on an irregular timetable. The only other place there were guards, where at the gate and probably near the governor. Of course it was a military camp, so they would be every where inside, but she wasn't leading an army inside, she only had to find a way to stop the governor in his quest for godhood, if that was indeed what he was up to.
"She is our guest", the commander finally had found time to tell the guards that she could be allowed inside the camp and Gabrielle walked inside while opening her veil and slowly unwinding her turban. She heard the commander sucking in breath as he saw her like that and knew that he was now completely taken with her. She felt annoyed by this, but acted like she hadn't noticed for now. A love struck roman commander could as very useful to her as Marc Anthony had been to Xena. The commander offered to escort her to the place, where she could set up camp for the next few days.
Gabrielle suddenly stopped rooted to the spot as suddenly several ancient pillars came into view.
"Is something wrong?" The commander asked.
"No. I was just astounded by the size of these. I have never this close to such ancient ruins before", she lied.
"Well, I hope you can stand sleeping next to them then. Unfortunately we have no tents to spare and it is the only spot out of the way of all the army and workers as well as the digging is around here", he explained apologetically and guided her over to a spot next to some Egyptian traders, who also seemed to be camping out for a few days awaiting the next caravan back to Memphis.
"Would you care to join me and a few friends in my tent for dinner this evening or is it a problem", he offered while pointing out a big green tent across the single dirt road running through the entire camp.
"Not at all, I will join you later then. Is there someplace where I can get water and maybe buy some food", she asked and looked around.
"Well there are
two wells here. We all use the one over there". He pointed over to the far end
of the camp. "But if it is too far and you don't mind a little sand floating
in it, then there is a spring filled basin just over there inside the ruins",
he explained, when some one yelled: "Commander Plini". "That is me I am afraid.
We will see each other later then", he said as farewell and ran towards the
soldier, who had called for him, while Gabrielle set about making camp.
She had dressed in a nicer white dress with all her jewelry and washed herself thoroughly before heading over to the tent that Plini had indicated earlier. The smells of cooking fires and food had spread although the camp as the light of the sun slowly descended towards the horizon. Plini's tent seemed unguarded but she could clearly make out a pair of gruff male voices inside.
"So I heard that you picked up a guest after rescuing that patrol. A woman if I heard correctly", a voice of a man, she didn't know, asked as Gabrielle paused and bent down, seemingly to get a stone out of her boots.
"Yes. A very rare woman she is. Imagine meeting a traveling amazon warrior out here in the middle of the desert. She was riding with a caravan headed toward Syria. She said something about being on her way home. She seems to travel a lot. I didn't ask why", she could hear Plini explain.
"An amazon, be careful with amazons my friend. They aren't like other women, they aren't pliable or obedient. They have a society where the females rule and they are fearsome warriors. I heard they have fought against gods and demigods. Their land is one of the few no one has ever conquered. I should know I was apart of one of Livia's expeditions into the area. If it hadn't been for Livia herself, their warriors would have been too much in single combat. Did she give you her name? I remember the names of some of their heroes and outcasts from my conversations with the slaves we took back then", the other voice told.
"She didn't and if I was you I wouldn't mention it around her. I got the feeling that she was the type that approved of taking warriors as slaves without just cause", Plini suggested with what seemed to be a slight hint of anger in his voice.
"Then we should get rid of the one, who is serving us, she is an amazon I kept around after the raids", the man said. Gabrielle felt a rising anger at the thought of her amazon sisters being kept as slaves in this very camp. She added their release to her list of things to do. She was in no danger of being recognized though; Eve had raided those amazon villages before her and Xena's return from their cold sleep. She rose and walked into the tent.
"My dear, I am glad to see you", Plini greeted her as she stepped inside. She saw the amazon slave busying herself with cutting the meat for their meal. Gabrielle decided to hide her distaste for the practice of slavery for a while.
"Plini", she greeted him and smiled then turned to look at the other man seated to her right. He was around Plini's age with black curly hair and a suntan. He seemed well trained and the Roman sword at his side was lain down in such a manner that it could be drawn even now as he was sitting in a tent eating dinner. His eyes shone with intelligence, cruelty and arrogance. He was expensively dressed reminding her of how Pompeius had dressed complete with a roman breast plate and a white undershirt. Gabrielle sighed inwardly and was happy that she had brought her weapons with her, this man exuded danger and high rank.
"And this is?" She asked and indicated the seated man with a smile.
He rose, walked over and gave her a polite kiss on the hand. "Lucius the younger, governor of Egypt and a representative of Rome", he said. "And with whom do I have the pleasure", he asked and looked at her with curiosity.
"Ephiny and it's a great honor to meet such a luminary of Rome", she answered and gave him a dazzling smile.
Neither of the men noticed that the amazon slave in the background turned around slowly and looked at her with anger in her eyes. Gabrielle noticed how her eyes studied her, but seemed unable to reach any conclusions.
"You're share the name of one of your great heroes", Lucius stated and looked at her triumphantly as if proud of his ill gotten knowledge.
"Ephiny the regent of the greek Amazons is famous for her deeds and leadership. My mother named me after her in her honor", Gabrielle explained and for a moment remembered her amazon sister and friend.
"Let's eat", Plini offered as the slave began sitting the food on the table and pouring what looked like red wine.
Gabrielle politely sat down after the men and began eating the luxurious food offered to her. She noticed that the amazon slave kept watching her while serving the food to the two Romans.
"So Ephiny you are far away from the Amazon nation. What brings you to Egypt?" Lucius asked.
"Oh, I must admit that I am just passing through your land on my way home. You see I am afflicted with a great wanderlust and I almost never stay in one place for long. It has been like this for over seven years now", she explained. The key to keep people from seeing through a disguise was to mix enough of truth into the lie.
"Seven years. That is a long time. You must have seen a great deal of the world then", Plini exclaimed and looked at her again.
"Yes a lot. There is, I can say without boasting, only very little of the eastern deserts, some islands in far east and what lies beyond the great desert to the south of here remaining then I have at least passed through all the lands open to me", she told almost slipping into her storyteller voice, but reminded herself not to bring these two dangerous men any closer to the real truth about her.
"Really you're still so young. You must have begun when you were but a girl", Plini commented, while Lucius had some more wine poured.
"Yes. I was probably much too young and innocent, when I left my home. And I have only been home a few times since and then I have only stayed for a few days each time. I sometimes regret that. But I think I will not stop my traveling until I get much older. There is still so much of the world to see and little quiet corners, where I haven't been at yet", she told them wistfully. She decided to move the attention away from her.
"Enough about me, I am rather more interested in what you're doing here, Governor. I heard from Plini here that you're out here looking for ancient Egyptian treasures. Why would you interest yourself in such trivial a matter, if my question doesn't offend you or touches on some big secret of the Roman Empire", she asked and tried to sound as if she thought it a minor question more like an offhand comment than anything else.
He looked at her for a short moment then said: "Well let's call it a hobby. My dear father, may he rest in peace, was a great lover of the Egyptian culture and I practically grew up in the Library at Alexandria together with him. I learned a lot about their past as well as the philosophies and ideas of many cultures like the Greek philosophies of Plato and Socrates. But I was always fascinated by the great age of Egypt personally. You see during the age of the great Egyptian pharaohs, they buried their kings with a great amount of his worldly possessions so that he could go to into the land of the Dead and exists according to his station. Imagine they even believed that the pharaohs descended from the gods and that many of them were themselves living gods. To think that image was so entrenched that many of their peoples and slaves labored and died just to build their massive tombs like the Pyramids or some of the structures found around here".
Gabrielle noticed how he got a burning look in his eyes, like he was seeing something he deeply desired in his mind's eye.
"And you're digging up those ancient offerings. Plini said that was why we were attacked. The people around obviously don't approve of grave robbing", Gabrielle said before remembering that she shouldn't show her opinions so obviously.
Lucius was torn from his musings and looked her straight in the eye. Gabrielle hid any sign of disapproval deep inside and returned a neutral even questioning look.
"No, the locals don't approve, even though I sense the hand of the priests and their long dead gods in this. Still I must fulfill my orders and they include the stripping of such treasure from Egypt", he explained and took a long drink from his mug of wine.
"So Ephiny have you ever seen the glorious city of Rome", Plini asked obviously anxious to move the conversation over to another subject afraid that one or the other of his guest might become offended rather soon.
"Yes, I have. I have even seen a couple of gladiatorial fights in the arena. However for some reason I have never had the time to stay there for long either. I like the food there though and a friend of mine used to have a smithy nearby", she explained.
"So you do make friends on your way around the world", Plini commented.
"Of course I do. Traveling is all about making friends in new places", she explained and looked at the two men with a smile.
"It must be lonely to travel through the world all alone", Lucius said and looked at her with unexpected pity in his eyes.
"Yes, traveling alone is very lonely and not very safe. I used to travel with one or two friends, but they have both passed away over the last two years", she said and allowed her sorrow to well up in her eyes and show on her face. Her eyes watered involuntarily.
"They must have been good friends", Plini found as he saw the look in her face.
"I didn't want to open up old wounds", Lucius added with even more unexpected sympathy.
"You didn't they are quite fresh. Unfortunately my best friend, the one who originally lured me away from my home and more or less taught me every thing I know, died only 9 weeks ago in a far away land. I haven't been able to get over the sorrow yet. My friend's death is my reason for heading home", she explained, while a single tear ran down her face.
"Let's talk of happier things. Do you know anything about philosophy Ephiny?" Lucius asked, while Plini rolled his eyes with a smile on his lips.
"Philosophy and history are amongst the first things taught to an amazon", she echoed the words of Terrias from back in time when she had just meet Xena.
"Good…", and so Lucius and Gabrielle began a hours long conversation about comparative philosophy, surprising Lucius not only with the width but also depth of her knowledge, while Gabrielle carefully sifted her arguments to avoid any confrontations about morals or showing too much of her true values.
Finally as the night truly began and the stars shone besides the moon in sky, Gabrielle retired back to her campsite, more confused about Lucius than before. He seemed a much civilized and nice person than she had expected or wanted him to be. He seemed well liked by his soldiers and a well educated man on top of that. He had shown real care, when she had revealed a little of her sorrow. In fact if it hadn't been for his practice of keep Amazons as slaves and that he obviously was obsessed with finding something out here in the desert then she would probably like him to become one of her friends. For a few moments she considered what would happen if she revealed the full truth of her identity and if she could change Lucius' mind about his treasure hunt. Then she remembered the fire and conviction she had seen in his eyes as he spoke of his treasure hunt and Plini's quick action to move the conversation to another area. He would be almost impossible to change. She would have to find some way to end this treasure hunt thereby ending the pointless battles. And save her amazon sister or sisters from their captivity. With a sigh she lay down to rest her dreamless sleep at her camp site between two large stone pillars of the ruin.
Gabrielle stood in the middle of large white marble pillar hall. At one end she could see the waters of the Nile flowing placidly past the huge opening, the sun gleaming of the water. The room was huge and the wall filled with beautiful paintings in vivid colors and golden lettering. She looked down at herself. She wore a dress reminiscent of her harem outfit, when she had let herself be sold to Gurkhan as his slave. Her hair was beautifully set with golden threads and all her jewelry looked like what she had only seen worn by the richest of rulers. Only the bare necessities were covered by the purest white silk. Suddenly there was the sound of whispers behind her and she turned to look at what seemed to be the entrance to a temple. She could see into an even wider hall with a beautifully painted roof. Everything looked exceedingly expensive. She felt drawn in that direction and walked into the hall, which was just as empty of people as the previous one had been.
The room she had entered looked like the main hall of a large temple. It was beautifully decorated in white and gold, here and there a well kept palm and no people. At her end of the room there were two other entrances both leading outside one to what looked like a huge garden and the other to some courtyard make of the same yellow stone as the rest of this rocky region of Egypt. There were no people or voices to be heard. Then suddenly from the opposite end of the temple she again heard whispers of one or more human voices. She walked toward that end seeing the row of immense and beautifully made statues each representing one of the Egyptian gods as she approached the central dais, where there was no altar, but instead a simple coarse carpet and at the end of the room two doors leading into the inner chamber of the temple. Something in her memory or was it instinct told her to take the right opening. Carefully almost as if fearful she walked into the darkened door opening, which turned out to be a staircase leading down.
She walked down for a long. A feeling of having done this countless times before overwhelmed her. She knew somehow that she should avoid a step, and then she should press something in that wall. Slowly something in her mind guided her down the stone steps, a memory she couldn't have getting her past traps that she had never seen. She ended up in a short hallway leading up to a stone door, which was open. It looked intricate with a swirling opening mechanism. She gingerly stepped over the small trap that would initiate a rock slide and went into the room. Inside a small room shelves lined each wall except for the wall opposite the door. There stood a pedestal on which a golden scroll case rested. An imposing dark haired woman stood besides the scroll case dressed in the same style as her but using silver. She looked towards her and smiled. She looked like a cross between Xena and an Egyptian like Cleopatra. The likeness was uncanny but not complete. "Tepemkau, you made it. We must find a better place to hide the scroll. The natives have found out about it. If their leaders learn its secrets then there will come another generation of living gods and if that continues the balance will be disrupted and another great flood will come. You must…" Gabrielle's vision became blurry and tore.
She awoke as something touched her arm. She lunged up, hammering her head into the face of someone standing over her. Quickly she back flipped up to standing position. Then she saw that she had head butted the amazon slave, who was holding a small cooking knife in her hand. She sat in the sand in a daze, but was smiling and looking at her with respect in her eyes.
"I am so sorry", Gabrielle apologized in whispered Amazonian and walked over to see if she had hurt her amazon sister.
"You didn't hurt me. I came to see you and… Maybe I thought you could help me bring a message home to my sister", the thin and scarred woman asked in what sounded like the northern Amazonian dialect.
"I am going to do better than that. I am going to get you home", Gabrielle told as if it was a matter of fact.
"Don't try that please. Lucius would have you killed or enslaved in the blink of an eye. He is very dangerous, no matter how much you impressed him or Plini at dinner", she stopped for a moment noticing the look of resolve in Gabrielle's eyes. "How could you get me out of here, we're in the middle of a Roman legion", she asked a small measure of hope mixing in with the hopelessness reigning her voice.
"We could walk out of here now, if that was my only problem. However I have to stop Lucius from finding what he is seeking here. Do you know what it is he is seeking?" She asked hoping that Lucius like so many other Romans forgot that slaves were people with ears too.
"Y-Yes, I heard him talking with Erkan, the leader of the treasure hunters about it. They are looking from some legendary book or scroll, which is said to contain the secret of the gods of Egypt. They've tracked it to these ruin over the last year of digging. And they're close. I heard Erkan telling Lucius that they have found the entrance to the place where it was kept. But the diggers are scared, because the legend says that the ones, who protected it, were capable of keeping even the gods out of this place. Lucius had to order the whipping of several of them just to get them to dig. There have been deaths from traps and the like already. I don't think anyone could stop him now though. He will sacrifice all his slaves and men to get his hands on that scroll, he has been obsessed with it every since his father died of age. I think he is afraid of dying", she explained.
"Thank you so much. Listen to me. I will get you out of here and back to your tribe even if it is the last thing I do. I swear it", Gabrielle said while holding the amazon by her shoulders.
"Thank you. But I must ask. Which tribe are you from? I can't place your dialect", she whispered.
"I can't tell you now. When we are out of here then I will tell you my story and you will tell me yours. Now this is important. Are there any other of our sisters around here?" Gabrielle looked around partly to emphasize her point and partly to see if anyone needed to have a chakram thrown in their chest.
"No I am the only one. I know of a few amazons living as slaves in Rome, but that is it", she explained.
"Go back now. I will come to get you, when I have finished my other task. You must endure just a little longer", Gabrielle said and gave her a little push in the direction of the large set of tents with Lucius standard standing outside, which she expected were his. She watched her sister amazon moving soundlessly towards what was hopefully one of her last days of slavery.
that the day would soon dawn so there would be no point in going back to sleep
now. Instead she busied herself with patching up her battered red leathers,
while thinking about the vivid dream she had. It had been the past and it had
been here. Could it be that she had lived one of her past lives here in Egypt
with some incarnation of Xena. It would fit what they had been told in India.
But the woman said that they were going to hide the scroll. Unfortunately she
had been woken up before she had heard the hiding place of the scroll; she would
have to figure that out later. Xena always tried to make her more flexible instead
of just focusing on one unalterable plan. But if their personality were anything
like theirs, then she could be a little surer what to expect. Suddenly she sensed
the beginnings of a plan. She began the preparations immediately. It could go
either way and she was taking a chance, but as Xena had shown her. You had to
take chances to get to your goal.
Gabrielle walked around the camp like she had absolutely nothing to do. However her eyes were carefully assessing the legionnaires and their guard patterns. She made mental note of where they kept the horses and how the gates where opened. She saw how the far end of the compound was actually just a fence around the massive dig site, where nearly 20 Egyptians worked tirelessly under the watchful eye of Lucius and a surly looking Egyptian she guessed was Erkan. The dig itself was extensive. She could clearly make out the remainder of a great cracked sandstone floor and the remnants of many great statues in two rows leading up to a raised stone platform. It was the house from her dreams. And right enough the men had begun digging down into the stone stairways, which lead to the room, she knew was there. She had no idea, how she knew or could dream such a thing, but she knew that she had and sensed the truth of her vision.
Gabrielle walked up to Lucius as if she was permitted to be near his dig, which she presumed was not the case. "This is quite a sight", she commented as she came into full view of the two men. The Egyptian looked at her for mere moment then returned his attention to the workers, but Lucius just smiled and motioned for her to come closer.
"Yes, I hope to find something precious down that stairwell, if we can ever get past all the traps", he said and for a few seconds he stared at the back of the Egyptian impatiently then returned his gaze to the blond amazon stand before him.
"I thought the problem was sand not traps. Do the traps still work after all these years?" She was astounded but not really surprised if it really was the soul she suspected that had made them; she should have expected nothing else.
"No the stairwell hasn't been filled with sand. It was still sealed shut, when we found it", Lucius explained, when a cry of pain came from the little group of men surrounding the stairwell.
"Damn it", Erkan cursed in Egyptian and stormed down there as more and more of the workers back away from the stairwell pale and with fear written all over their faces.
The workers threw down their tools. Erkan railed against them in Egyptian asking, pleading and finally commanding them to continue the work, while the trap experts do their job and open up that stairwell so that they could get down there. Yet for all his yelling and cajoling, no one moved in the direction of the stairwell. Gabrielle said nothing, while Lucius looked angrier by the minute.
"It looks like they are afraid", Gabrielle commented offhandedly.
"I will change their minds", Lucius said through clenched teeth and was about to motion for one of his centurions.
Gabrielle took her chance. "If they're regular physical traps, why don't you let me try? I have a lot of experience in trap building and removal", she lied, while checking again if the object she had hidden in her clothing was properly secured and out of sight and her weapons ready.
Lucius looked at her with surprise and suspicion in his eyes. "I don't think the traps are like anything you've ever seen. They are very cunningly made and mostly likely impassable without blood loss", he told her.
"Yes, but as you can surely see there seems to be only one stairwell around here, which means that if this was a regularly used place instead of a tomb, then it was probably meant to be used, which means the traps can be either avoided entirely or disarmed. I have seen things like this in the Far East, there really shouldn't be a problem", she boasted without hesitation.
"And what is in it for you?" He asked and stared at her intensely.
"I get that amazon you keep as a slave as payment", she said and smiled at his surprise.
"How did you know?" He looked her up and down with even more surprise and suspicion.
"There are certain signs, skin colors and mannerism that you can never get out of an amazon. I don't know how important she is to you, but I hope that whatever is down there is worth more than her and that I can get it out for you", she explained without hesitation.
He was lost in thought for a while. Then he looked up at her and said: "Good, but I will go with you myself. If what we find is precious enough to me, then I will give you my slave. At least I can understand your motivation".
"Let's go then", Gabrielle offered and walked towards the stairwell. She heard him sheath his sword and follow her. She made her way to the stairwell. Erkan looked at the two in surprise.
"The amazon and I are going down ourselves. I am fed up waiting for you people", Lucius spat out before Erkan could open his mouth. He stopped for a moment lost in thought then called one of his centurions over and whispered something Gabrielle couldn't make out to him. The centurion looked at the both of them then nodded and stepped back, while Lucius went over to one of the men that had been down in the stairwell no long ago and retrieved two unlit torches.
"Light these", he commanded Erkan. He gave one to Gabrielle and kept the other.
"Come on then", she said and walked down into the darkness without fear.
Slowly they made their way down the stairs. They walked in silence only the quiet growl of their torches consuming air and crackle of the burning wood resounded in the empty stone stairway, which seemed to carve its way deep into the rock. It was exactly like she had dreamed it. They reached a spot still slick with blood from the treasure hunters.
"I guess this is as far as they made it", Gabrielle commented with out glee and stopped to carefully press her foot down on a rock at the end of the step. She motioned for Lucius to take a step forward. "Stop there. You'll have to follow my commands to the point while we do this", she added as she stopped him from continuing on into the dark by putting a hand on his shoulder.
Slowly she guided him through the traps, making a great show of discovering them and then avoiding them with prodigious skill. She slowly but surely made him walk further and further behind her, giving her room for later. The stairs winded down further into the darkness, while she put all her faith and their lives in her memory of a dream.
Finally after nearly an hour they reached the bottom of the stairs. Gabrielle asked Lucius to remain several steps behind her, while she worked her way through any trap in the beautifully decorated hallway, which flickered in many colors as the flames of their torches danced in the strange words and pictures on the walls.
Gabrielle carefully avoided the rock slide still held in place by the tiles near the door and examined the locking mechanism. The door had been open, when she had last seen this place and she had no idea, how to open it.
"Is there a problem?" Lucius asked curiously as she stopped to examine the door and frame surrounding it.
"I can't seem to find a way to open the door. I think whatever you're looking for is behind it", she explained as her eyes fell upon the words written on the door. She had never before seen the language yet she instantly translated it: "This keeps the eternal words of Tepemkau. It has the secrets of souls and life entombed within. Keep these secrets or watch your world destroyed as we did". Another carving just below that one read: "Choose the color of Netikerty's hair and touch the places where your souls touch and behold the secrets as recorded by Tepemkau".
Gabrielle looked around again. On the edges of the doorframe there were painted engravings matching the heart and mind chakra that Naima had shown her and Xena in India many years ago. Gabrielle looked around and found a black heart and mind chakra. Smiling to herself, she set her face in the right folds and turned to Lucius and said: "I think I have found the opening mechanism. Now follow my orders and you will be on the other side of that door within minutes".
She guided him every step as he passed the four traps before the rock slide. "Stop right there", Gabrielle commanded as he stood mere inches from the triggering tiles on the floor. "I need some room to open the door, I have no idea what will happen if anything goes wrong", she explained and turned to press first the heart chakra then the mind chakra.
The door began to slide open and Gabrielle turned so that she could edge inside the door before it opened fully. "Come", she asked and saw how he nearly stepped over the triggering tiles.
The rocks hammered down on the roman without killing him. Instead it buried him. Gabrielle had remembered that the rock slide had only been there to slow an enemy down, so that the two owners of this place could come down to defeat the would-be burglars. As quick as lightning her eyes scanned the room. Old scrolls destroyed with age filled shelf after shelf having suffered and died under the onslaught of time. Only a golden scroll case lying on the rotted remains of a pillow remained. Quickly she drew forth the scroll case she had prepared from the insides of her clothing and replaced it, while trying not to disturb the remainders of the pillow too much. She hid the original scroll case in her clothing and quickly turned back to the unconscious man lying in a pile of yellow rocks, which had until a few minutes ago been apart of the roof. She dug him free and tried to revive him.
Lucius slowly came too. "What happened?" He asked still groggy from the blow to his head.
"It seems that the opening of the door activated a trap that I had overlooked. I am truly sorry… The room has been opened now, but I am afraid there is no treasure here. Only the remains of ancient scrolls crumbling with age", she explained.
Lucius jumped to his feet and stared at her. "There is only scrolls in the room. Is one of them in a golden scroll case?" He asked and looked at her with glee. Carefully and still a little wobbly on his feet he walked into the small room, cackling with happiness as his eyes fell on the golden scroll case on the crumbled pillow. "I have found it. Finally after all this time I will succeed in my quest", he triumphed and jumped up and down happily as he palmed the gold painted scroll case.
"Let's go back to the surface. Then you can have my slave and my eternal gratitude as well. Ephiny my friend, you have given me a greater gift this day then my mother when she gave birth to me", he enthused.
"Thank you… Very well let me guide up again", she offered happily. She had completed her quest without serious bloodshed and would soon save an Amazon sister from a destiny worse than death.
Gabrielle felt her spirit soar as she guided the happy man into the brilliant sunlight. She had fooled Lucius and stopped his search by giving him a fake scroll. She would probably leave him to try and decipher the Japanese writings on the scroll. Maybe one day in the future he would see reason and abandon his futile research into a scroll with one her sister's recipe for fish cakes on it. She walked proudly at his side as they passed from the darkness into the light.
Lucius suddenly dashed to the left and a legionnaire stepped in between them. Gabrielle was surrounded by at least 20 combat ready legionnaires.
"Surrender Gabrielle of Poteidia", Lucius suddenly commanded as she looked around in confusion.
Her mouth tasted bitter and a knot formed in her stomach. "How did you know?" She asked in a low and deadly voice, while she considered her combat options. Fighting 20 legionnaires ready for her would not be easy and could very well have a deadly ending.
"I was in Rome recently. To swear my allegiance to Caligula I am sure you remember him. You and Xena arranged his death right in front of the imperial palace. I saw you manipulate the madman to allow you and Xena access to the palace and I saw you proclaim Xena's presence, who then browbeat the fool into killing himself even though he was a god. You are quite recognizable, so imagine my surprise when my trusted commander brings you right into my camp, when I am on the brink of becoming a god just like Caligula. Now I have got you. Don't even think about fighting! At this moment my best centurion is holding a knife to the throat of your sister amazon, so it is really in your best interest to surrender immediately", he explained and smiled as the centurion came into view with his hostage held at knifepoint.
Gabrielle sighed and threw down first her sai's then reluctantly Xena's chakram followed.
"Now give me the real scroll. I am betting that you switched them, while that rock slide had me knocked unconscious", he commanded.
Gabrielle threw down the golden scroll case and looked at the roman defiantly.
"Good girl. Just like all other Amazons you just need a death threat to follow orders", he mused, smiled and commanded one of his men to get the discarded items. The man quickly took to the weapons and ran out of the ring of soldiers.
Gabrielle steeled herself. She knew what would follow.
"Take that bitch prisoner. I want her alive", Lucius noted coldly.
The ring of soldiers surrounding her charged. Gabrielle managed to kick a few in sensitive places, but she was soon put down by their mass and weapons. They kept coming kicking, hitting and cutting her. Soon she was a bloody mess and all fell into darkness.
She stood again in the magnificent building, which she realized had once been the residence of an incarnation of her soul. She stood at the end of a massive courtyard. All around her powerful soldiers dressed in expensive finery fought against other soldiers carrying the markings and banners of the Egyptian gods. An arrow hurtled towards her. With practiced ease she tore it from the air. She was amazed at her own speed.
Suddenly she heard an eerily familiar warcry resound over the courtyard. It sounded like Xena yet was not. A black haired figure flew out of an opening and landed many yards into the courtyard. She was armed with two wide sabers, which she whirled about so fast that they looked almost like shields of silver. "Tepemkau, I have hidden the treasure. All anyone will find now is a curse, which will destroy them and all who hold evil in their hearts", she yelled in a language no one else seemed capable of understanding.
"Then we must defeat these poor fools before they doom their own lands with their greed", she heard herself answer. Suddenly a man ran towards her brandishing a large spear. The reflexes of the body she inhabited took over. Moving so quickly that even her own eyes didn't see it; she flew into a jump kick. Her weight and immense speed sent her hurtling into her enemy and rewarded her with the clearly audible sounds of many bones cracking and breaking.
She became a blur of fighting prowess. She fought weaponless, yet seemed as effective as she had ever been with her sai's or staff. Her hands and feet were deadly weapons, whose focused blows could both kill and maim. Yet sometimes she threw her enemies far away instead using their own attacks against them. The battle seemed to last forever, no one gaining the upper hand. Overhead an unnatural storm had begun to rage as a group of the natives came running out of the mansion with many scrolls. Gabrielle felt the rage and fear in the body she inhabited. Those men were touching secrets more ancient than the very language that they spoke. She broke into a dead run towards them, screaming like Callisto in her anger.
Suddenly an animal headed figure appeared before her, his hawk like visage set in anger and his weapons held ready. A god had come. Horus stood before her.
"Those secrets are not for these people, greedy spirit. Nor are they for you. You have already beheld many of them, but the ultimate secret still eludes you and your kin. It doesn't matter what you do to me, but if those men aren't stopped you'll have to contend with even more godlings vying with you for the power over the known world", she heard herself say in a strange and musical language unlike any she had ever heard before.
The man figure spoke with barely withheld anger tingeing his voice: "Neither are those secrets any longer safe with you and your mate. You call yourselves the Best of Souls yet I see nothing to fear. My mother was wrong in fearing your wrath. However you're right. Mortals should not touch the secrets of birthing gods. They will be dealt with", he lifted his weapon in the customary greeting of an enemy.
Gabrielle noticed to her astonishment that her body and mind held no fear of this mighty creature in front of her. She knew it could be defeated. Suddenly she leapt forward and kicked the god hard. He flew across the courtyard and hammered into the wall so hard that the very walls cracked and buckled.
The body she inhabited had the same power to kill gods that Xena had been given during her battle with the Olympians.
However Horus was a mighty opponent and immediately counterattacked by firing a beam of light from his hand. The attack came on to fast for her to dodge.
She brought up her forearms letting the beams hit her wide golden bracers, hoping that she would survive.
The searing beam struck the bracers.
She deflected it into a man attacking one of their loyal guards turning him into a charred corpse.
Another beam came towards her and once again bounced of her bracers sending it into the mansion's wall. Beam after beam was deflected, then suddenly a sword hit Horus' open palm slicing it open. He screamed in pain as red blood poured forth from his wound.
Netikerty stood at his left hand side and smiled grimly at him. "For over five thousand years we have lived on this world, honing our skills and knowledge for our battle against you gods, who claim dominion over a world, which has never been and will never become your creature. Now crawl back to your family of bodiless spirits of power and cry impotent godling", she commanded and punctuated it by kicking him in the stomach, sending Horus sprawling to the ground.
Horus disappeared in a shower of golden sparks.
Then suddenly the ground began to shake. The sun darkened. The skies became black and the winds became hurricane like.
"They are all going to come. We won't be able to stop them all", the black haired woman, she knew as Netikerty and who was a previous incarnation of Xena, said and looked around with a little fear in her eyes.
She stepped up besides her. All around them the battle raged. Fires raged in the nearby plantation. Their beautiful home was already severely damaged.
"I guess this is our final stand then", she heard the body she inhabited say.
"It has been a very long life my love", Netikerty answered and gave her a warm kiss.
"It will be an eternity. I will always be at your side. And you will always be at mine. I have manipulated the very fabric of the universe to guarantee it. We will never be born so far apart that we will not meet again. We will always return to life together. We are soul mates; the will of the universe is on our side in this", she answered and turned to look around.
Suddenly the world fell silent. A group of human and beast headed creatures appeared at the far end of the courtyard, they looked like mere outlines the gloom.
"Here they come", she whispered.
Then there was a brilliant flash of light.
And Gabrielle awoke
She was tied to a post in the middle of an otherwise empty tent. She looked down and tried to gauge the severity of her wounds. She could see several small cuts and deep purple bruises crisscrossing her body starting from her knees and probably only ending at her scalp. She tested her muscles and limbs one by one. Nothing seemed broken, but her right wrist felt sprained. She twisted in her bond realizing that only her arms were tied to the post, which also held up the canvas of the tent. She smiled. They underestimated her; she knew that keeping a clear account of her own prowess out of her recent scrolls had been become as brilliant a stratagem as they had hoped, when they had discussed the idea.
Gabrielle forced herself to relax and listen. She listened to the sounds of the camp. They had changed. She could hear the confident strides of the legionnaires outside. There were two guards outside her tent. The previously ever present sounds of digging had disappeared. Lucius had found his price and had probably killed or dismissed the workers. Then she became aware of people working not far away building something large made of both wood and stone. Probably the preparations for a ceremony as described in the scroll. Her awareness expanded further as she sorted the many sounds found in the camp. The sound of Erkan's voice as he read then repeated words in a language unknown to her. He was studying the scroll, most likely at Lucius' orders. Her awareness spread further and further then she heard it. Sandals sliding across sand as their wearer shifted nervously. Weapons slapping against leathers as their owner readied them for battle. A horse whinnying as it railed against standing still to long. An army was hidden amongst the dunes. Gabrielle closed her eyes in contemplation.
Suddenly she heard someone loudly commanding the two guards to stand aside. Plini was just outside the tent. She decided to play groggy and unresponsive as if her head had gotten a mighty blow. Plini stepped inside dressed as the proper roman legionnaire and commander he was.
"So you lied to us", he said and started walking around her. "You thought you'd use me to get close to my general, the rightful ruler of this land. You charmed me and probably planned to kill me, when you were done with me", he seemed to get angrier for each sentence. She slowly rolled her head over towards him and forced herself to speak as if each word was painful and she could only barely whisper.
"I had nothing like that planned. I was planning to join up with the Egyptians and convince them not to attack you again, and then I would sneak in here and find whatever it was Lucius was planning to use to become a god", she whispered and tried to get eye contact with Plini.
"Lucius become a god, don't be a fool! He is only doing the bidding of Rome", Plini mocked and slapped her across the cheek.
Gabrielle tried once again. If she couldn't convince Plini that Lucius had a mad plan to become a new god then she would have to fight her way to him and that could prove difficult. She gave up her façade of being hurt and groggy.
"Listen to me Plini. I am not a person known to lie. Brutus, Pompeius and even Caesar would believe me. I am not trying to fool you. Lucius was digging here or anywhere else looking for gold or treasure. That was just an excuse he used to be able to have support for this in Rome and be able to find the clues to this places. He is here for a scroll, which he thinks contains the secrets to becoming a god. I have known two people, who became gods. Neither was able to handle that kind of power. I know two gods intimately and I can tell you that being a god by birthright is very different from becoming one. I beg you Plini; you must help me stop him. We can stop if we just destroy the scroll. It should have been destroyed ages ago", she begged with all her charm showing in her watery eyes. Plini just shook his head and turned away.
"You truly are insane. I have known Lucius since his early years. He is a scholar as well as an excellent general and friend. You are wrong about him. Even if he were to become a god, I know no one else who was more worthy than him", Plini said while looking over his shoulder at her. Gabrielle contemplated attacking Plini, but he was already too far out of reach for her short figure to grasp his neck and the guards were probably alerted by their continuing conversation. She would have to wait for a better time or find another way to get out of her bonds.
The time passed slowly and Gabrielle guessed that she had probably woken around midmorning either the day after Lucius playing his dirty trick on her or the more likely the day after that judging from the dryness of her mouth and growling of her hungry stomach. Gabrielle knew that the Egyptian infantry would probably attack this very day most like just after night had fallen or at the strike of a sandstorm on some other distracting event. And from the fading sounds of workers she was guessing that they were getting ready for some big ceremony soon. She had very little time to work in, but she had to await the right time to strike and hope that everything fell into place. She set about making sure that her bonds were ready for her actions.
Most of the day passed and night was rapidly approach. Suddenly she heard a hush coming over the camp and the surrounding area, as if nature itself held its breath. She focused on the here and now. Far away she could make out the thunder of hooves on the sand. A warning cry went up. The Egyptians were attacking in force. Gabrielle for a second lamented that her original plan had failed and now many lives would be lost. The camp came alive with soldiers. There was something else as well. She focused her senses on the camp. There it was. Someone was chanting in that ancient language. The ceremony was about to start. Then she heard her guards.
"What is going on?" One guard asked the other. "I don't know", the other answered. "I'll go check", the first guard claimed. Gabrielle heard him running off. She smiled at her luck and drew in breath.
"Guard, when am I going to be fed", she yelled. She repeated the exercise a few times until he came in.
"Shut up bitch", the guard ranted as he ducked inside the tent.
"Listen you roman numbskull. I have been given neither water nor food for more than a day. If you plan on keeping me alive I need something, okay moron. And another thing, unless you want it to get really disgusting you find a way for me to go or I'll soil the tent instead. Not that I mind doing it. Hey, why don't you bring me the roman imperial standard, so I'll have something to dry myself with afterwards", she was trying to bait him.
"Slave bitch", he grumbled and walked towards her ready to bash her with his fist.
Gabrielle was more than ready. Quickly while ignoring her aches she jumped up and coiled her legs around the neck of the soldier. She drew him close and gave his head the most vicious and fast twist she could manage. His neck snapped loudly. Gabrielle let him go and gasped at the brutality of her attack. She shuddered at her abilities for a few moments then shook herself out of it and quickly maneuvered with her nimble feet wrapping them around the handle of his short sword. She managed to draw it from its scabbard. Keep all her muscles in her feet taut, she carefully lifted her own body in her bound arms lifting herself, while raising her feet and legs so that her knees touched her nose. Carefully she let go of the sword and amazingly managed to catch it with her fingers. As quickly as she could she moved the blade against her bonds cutting them away.
Suddenly roman sandals ran towards her tent. Gabrielle ignored the immense pain in her sprained wrist and pressed against her bonds with all her strength.
They burst just as the other roman guard dashed inside. Gabrielle quickly grasped the short sword and dropped into a fighting stance. The guard looked at her in surprise and readied his javelin for combat.
She had the advantage in the enclosed space and quickly closed in on the guard. He swung the spear at her like a staff. Gabrielle saw it coming and jumped over the wooden shaft. She landed and immediately swung the sword sideways. The guard jumped back and nearly got entangled in the tent's opening. Gabrielle kicked him on the side of his knee. He toppled to the ground. She hammered the butt of the sword into his forehead. His eyes crossed and he fell to the ground. She quickly dragged him into the middle of the tent and went towards the opening, when suddenly something cut into the canvas at the back of the tent.
Gabrielle swiveled and saw the roman dagger cut a man sized hole in the tent. Plini's head looked inside only to find the two guards lying on the ground and no Gabrielle in sight. She smiled and put the blade against his neck. "Hello Plini. Not a big fan of regular tent openings or was it the guards?" She joked as he looked at the disheveled amazon in surprise.
"I came to free you", he offered and quickly came in through his opening carrying what seemed to be her belongings. "And to give you this", he said and gave her the two saddlebag and her sai's. "Oh, and the Chakram I had steal that from Lucius' tent myself", he said and carefully reached down to his side where the razor sharp weapon rested. He handed it over as well.
"Why the change of heart, did you suddenly come to your senses or?" She asked waspishly, while she quickly put her weapons into their places and checked her belongings. Xena's ashes were still in their place as were her scrolls.
"After I went to see you, I realized that you really weren't known for lying about things like this and that if you were right, we could suddenly have another divine emperor on our hands. So I went to Lucius and made some inquiries of my own. It seems that he is really out to become a god and at any cost. Right now he is in some hastily constructed wooden structure making ready to sacrifice 100 slaves in some bizarre ritual to give him the power of a god. Erkan his treasure hunter seems to be handling the ceremony. I don't know what he gets out of it, but they are going at it right now. I would have come sooner, but the Egyptians were holding off their attack and I needed some distraction", he explained and some sort of guilt shone in his eyes.
"What did you do?" Gabrielle asked after taking a much needed drink of water from her waterskin.
"I sent one of my patrols out to provoke them into attacking without the knowledge of the other commanders. The Egyptian are outside the palisade right now", he explained. Gabrielle nodded understand that what Plini had sacrificed to get her out of imprisonment.
"Thank you… Listen, Plini we must stop Lucius before he becomes a god or we will suffer terrible consequences. Men are not meant to have godlike powers believe me. But if we go in there, you might be forced to fight your friend. Could you do that?" She asked with pity in her eyes.
His eyes got a far away look as if he remembered something from his past. "I must. I am Lucius' friend, but I also lost my entire family to the madness of Caligula. Lucius must be stopped", he swore and indicated to Gabrielle that she should follow him out his opening.
Outside the controlled chaos that was a battle went on. The Egyptian horsemen were busy throwing torches and oil inside the compound, while the archers of both sides tried to kill each other and in the middle of all of this the Romans were forming up their unit getting ready for a full on attack on the Egyptians outside the walled camp. Gabrielle and Plini slowly made their way towards the stone and wood structure hastily made around the place where Gabrielle knew her soul and its mate had lived many years ago.
They kept to the shadows as crept slowly closer. They got within viewing distance of the entrance. A small five man detachment of legionnaires guarded it. They were ready and seemed to sneer at even other legionnaire coming too close as they were readying the catapult just a few yards to the left of them. "Should we attack them?" Plini asked sounding not too happy about taking on his own side even now.
Gabrielle looked around and suddenly smiled. "It won't be necessary", she said and drew the chakram from its resting place. She carefully aimed the lethal weapon and threw it. It flew fast, screeching its metallic song as it hammered against the bottles of oil stored at one of the Roman catapults nearby then chopped off a torch creating a massive explosion of fire. The guards were hurled to the ground and the wooden temple caught a little fire. Even Gabrielle and Plini felt the searing air blast past them. "Now", she commented as she caught the chakram and ran towards the temporarily unguarded opening as the guards were very busy elsewhere or putting out their own private fires.
Gabrielle drew her sai's as they passed into the wooden structure. Its construction was obviously shoddy and haphazard, yet was ready to serve its function as a place of sacrifice for a new god. Gabrielle's eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness surrounding her. It was built like one gigantic room with a rough stone floor. At the opposite end of the room was a large stone altar already covered and slick with fresh blood. Erkan stood over the altar with a large dagger slitting the throats of one slave after another, while constantly chanting a litany in an ancient language. Each dead slave was discarded onto an already large pile by the very same centurion that Lucius had commanded to hold a knife to her amazon sister and a new one was immediately brought forward by a man looking a little like Erkan. The blood ran thick down the sloped altar and Gabrielle could only guess that Lucius lay on the other side drenched in the blood of innocents. The slaves were kept in wooden pen, and each struggled as much as they could when it became their turn but all would eventually be sacrificed to the mad plan of Lucius. The centurion had just thrown the body of a boy onto the pile, when Gabrielle screamed: "Stop this madness". The three figures turned towards her with curiosity, while Gabrielle noticed that Plini had not come through the door behind her. She cast a quick glance in that direction and saw Plini fighting several legionnaires through the thick smoke. The building had caught fire and the first flames were apparent in the left hand side of the wall already. Soon thick smoke would fill this enclosed room. "Kill her", a thick voice commanded from behind the altar. Lucius she guessed.
The centurion charged towards her, while Erkan and his helper picked another slave from the pen. Her amazon sister was next up. Gabrielle readied her sai's as the charging man drew out his massive sword while running.
He swung a wide arc, but Gabrielle easily dodged his brutal attack and swept his feet out from under him with a low kick. He bounded back onto his feet just as quickly and swung a low arc at her. Gabrielle jumped back and drew back her stomach avoiding a vicious gut wound.
She stepped towards him and with lightning speed hammered her sai's into his side sharp ends first. He dropped dead. Gabrielle hardly noticed and instead broke in a dead run towards the altar.
Erkan's helper, an ugly unshaved man, was ready for her and threw a dagger at her. Gabrielle moved to the side, but the throw was a good one and it nicked her across the upper arm. Searing pain shot through her already tired body. She felt some of her strength drain from her. Then somehow she remembered Xena's words from way back in the past: "When I have to do something impossible, when I have to reach for strength, you're my source". Gabrielle focused on the thought of failing Xena again. Rage flooded her system.
The man barely saw her sai's as she began thumping him across the chest, then the head, then the arms, going back to the chest then finally delivering a shattering blow with the pommels to his forehead. He dropped like a stone. Gabrielle turned her smoldering green eyes on the last man, she could see. Erkan stood in lonely majesty holding a knife over the amazon. From behind the altar the changed voice of Lucius cried out: "One more, my high priest. One more and I will gain the power I can feel their souls filling me. Their energies are transforming me. Soon I will be immortal. I will live forever as the ruler of this world and all shall bow to me. Kill that slave", he commanded.
Erkan lifted the weapon in triumph and plunged it down. Two sai's roared through the air. The knife dived for the Amazon's heart. Erkan suddenly flew back towards the wall two sai's embedded in his chest his lifeblood flowing thick down his clothing. Gabrielle dashed up and drew the Amazon back to stand behind her.
"Give me that slave", Lucius commanded as he rose from the strange pool of boiling blood that had been his resting place behind the altar. "Her soul is mine. I need it", he screamed. His body seemed to have lost some of its cohesion and his skin seemed more like the same blood he had risen from. Things or were they organs were moving underneath his skin. He was in short a disgusting thing to look at.
"Never monster", Gabrielle said and drew up her chakram praying to Eli that he hadn't become immortal yet. She knew she was no god slayer, so this could be her last chance. She threw the chakram as hard and as fast as she could towards his throat. Behind her the amazon screamed in fright as she saw the thing calling for her blood and soul as sacrifice.
The chakram was precisely on target. Lucius suddenly moved faster than Gabrielle could see and the chakram passed over his head harmlessly. Her hope fell. "Now I'll kill that wench and then I think I'll spend the first period of my godhood teaching you proper respect for man and most importantly me. When I am done with you no one will ever recognize you body or soul", he screamed in rage and ran towards them while his hand became clawed and his skin scaly.
"Hey Lucius old friend", Plini's voice suddenly called out in greeting.
Lucius paused and looked in surprise at the heavily wounded man standing at the entrance.
"Made ya look", Plini said with a smile.
The chakram sheared the madman's head clean off.
Gabrielle caught the chakram with ease and ran without pause over to what she hoped would be the corpse of her twisted enemy. His body seemed to dissolve before her eyes and slowly many small white wisps were released from it. The souls he had drawn into himself to become a god were slowly released from their thankfully short capture and went into the afterlife. Gabrielle smiled as her two new friends walked up to stand at her side. She walked to the altar and picked up the ancient scroll and threw it into the growing fire eating away at the side of the wooden structure. She intently watched it burn.
"What do you have in mind for that war out there", Plini asked and looked at her.
"Why don't we go
stop it after I have brought these slaves to some place safe", she suggested
and drew the smiling amazon with her to the pen. Plini shook his head with a
smile and followed the warrior bard.
Xena unrolled the last of the Egyptian scroll and read the last entry again in amazement. She had spent the entire day reading this adventure of Gabrielle and it amazed her to read about the growth and ability that the modest words of her bard revealed to her. Gabrielle never wrote about herself unless she could avoid it and if she did, she usually was very hard on herself or presented herself as a weaker person than she actually was. Xena had known about that since she had heard Gabrielle read from her scrolls the first time. In these journals she found more truth about Gabrielle than what had stood in many of the stories about her. She looked down at the last entries on that scroll.
I am leaving Egypt again. Xena was right they did need a girl with a chakram and I managed to be that person in my own way. I have begun dreaming again or maybe it was just the proximity to an earlier resting place of my soul. Sometimes I still feel Xena near and I know she is listening to my thought about her all the time. One day we will meet again, but not today as today I am boarding a safe little Greek merchant ship heading for Athens. I am planning to go home. But first I will have to face the burial of Xena's ashes in the crypt of her family. I will have to face up to the many people, who cared about her. And I am going to have to break the news to Ares and Aphrodite as gently as possible. After I have been home, I will go and find Eve. She deserves to know of this from me not some stranger. I hope I can make it in time. Strangely it seems some of my melancholy has disappeared with my adventure here. Maybe it was all the troubles, maybe it was the grandeur of the Valley of Kings, the great desert, the beauty of Alexandria or even the vision of another life in the past with Xena that helped me, I don't know, but it did.
Plini managed to get somehow get the legionnaires to pull back and now that Lucius is dead the plundering of ancient treasures from Egypt seems to have stopped. No one seems to know that he betrayed his people to stop Lucius; they believe I did it and I don't care to correct them. He could be a good ally in the future. Iaret was too pleased that I didn't manage to stop the battle from happening, but I am not worried about furthering the growth of the belief in Isis anyway. Still she helped me and Mytilene leave the country dodging the Roman soldiers looking for us. Cassia is going to travel north to meet up with Varia and her sister. I hope everything goes well for my sister amazons.
I have begun
making poetry instead of stories to satisfy my creative appetites, but they
don't come out that well yet, so I won't be writing them down just yet. Maybe
one day I'll be known as a poet as I am for being Xena's bard. Hopefully I will
be remembered for that and not just as a warrior.
Remember to watch out for the next part of the series called: "Heritage". Follow Gabrielle's first real prolonged stay at home since her leaving Poteidia in "Sins Of The Past" as she must make peace with her past, her family and handle a major discovery about herself, while stopping a greedy merchant and local warriors from kindling a deadly feud.